Are Depressed Preschoolers More Likely to Read the New York Times?


There’s a lengthy piece in the New York Times that takes a look at the admittedly intriguing (and somewhat depressing) question: Can preschoolers be depressed? “Kiran,” the 4-year-old featured in the story, was actually diagnosed with preschool depression or “early-onset depression” after maybe a year of saying things like “Mickey lies. Dreams don’t come true.” (Oh, man.)

According to the Times, preschool depression may indeed be a legitimate ailment, like A.D.H.D. and O.D.D. According to a number of child psychiatrists and psychologists, depression can start as early as 2 or 3 in a kid. Which is…sad!

Not everyone believes in childhood depression, though, just like not everyone believes in its adult form. Is this idea of depression dipping younger and younger just the New Yorkification of an adult ailment laid upon the children of uptight parents? Or something to do with kids growing up faster and faster?

But if you do believe it could be true, questions of genetics and hereditary inevitably crop up. Kiran’s mother, for instance, looks back and thinks she can identify her own childhood depression. Which means, maybe it’s not the world in which we live changing kids and making them grow up too fast, but something that’s always been there and is only now being identified. Science has a way of pushing its truths as we become ready to accept them.

Anyone who’s been to a shrink in the last 10 years will probably express a connection between things that happened to them as children and how they feel as adults. But kids weren’t initially even thought to have “the mental capacity for depression.” Evidence today indicates that’s not true. According to Daniel Pine, chief of the emotion-and-development branch in the Mood and Anxiety Disorders Program of the National Institute of Mental Health, “chronic mental illnesses are predominantly illnesses of the young.”

Back in the ’80s, we didn’t even think teens could be depressed, and that’s practically taken for granted as a matter of course nowadays. Yet calling every tantrum-prone 2-year-old depressed is a slippery slope of its own, for all sorts of reasons, including medication. And if we start equating moodiness or occasional bouts of sadness with depression, where are we? Er, maybe New York City?

Then there’s the adult POV: Is it just too depressing to think that your preschooler could be depressed? Parents want to believe that their children believe dreams can come true, or “in Santa” — even if such beliefs are no longer held by Mom or Dad. Beyond that, if their kids are depressed, they’ll probably blame themselves, accurately or otherwise (kids of depressed moms and dads are two to three times more likely to have depression as well — although that’s not always the case).

The happy news: “The very fluidity of preschoolers’ mental states seems to make them more treatable.” And, maybe, diagnosing and treating preschoolers for depression will help prevent depression in later life. Either way, the full article is well worth a read, although we’d stick with The Fluffy Bunny or maybe The Hungry Caterpillar if you’re feeling blue and under the age of 5.

Oh, and Kiran seems to be improving with treatment — thank goodness, because he was making us sadz.

[via New York Times]