AP Medical Writer
August 3, 2009
CHICAGO — Depression in children as young as 3 is real and not just a passing grumpy mood, according to provocative new research.
The study is billed as the first to show major depression can be chronic even in very young children, contrary to the stereotype of the happy-go-lucky preschooler.
Until fairly recently, “people really haven’t paid much attention to depressive disorders in children under the age of 6,” said lead author Dr. Joan Luby, a psychiatrist at Washington University in St. Louis. “They didn’t think it could happen … because children under 6 were too emotionally immature to experience it.”
Previous research suggested that depression affects about 2 percent of U.S. preschoolers, or roughly 160,000 youngsters, at one time or another. But it was unclear whether depression in preschoolers could be chronic, as it can be in older children and adults
Luby’s research team followed more than 200 preschoolers, ages 3 to 6, for up to two years, including 75 diagnosed with major depression. The children had up to four mental health exams during the study.
Among initially depressed children, 64 percent were still depressed or had a recurrent episode of depression six months later, and 40 percent still had problems after two years. Overall, nearly 20 percent had persistent or recurrent depression at all four exams.
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