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Child Depression Ages 0-5

Depression of Infancy and Early Childhood is defined as a pattern of depressed or irritable mood with diminished interest or pleasure in developmentally appropriate activities, diminished capacity to protest, excessive whining, and diminished social interactions and initiative. This is accompanied by disturbances in sleep or eating and lasts for at least 2 weeks.

Who gets it?

Depression affects up to one in 40 children. It involves the interplay of a genetic predisposition to depression, an imbalance of brain chemicals, and events in the child’s life.

There is a strong link between mental disorders in parents and their children. When parents have major depression, their children are at increased risk for emotional and behavioral problems of their own. Depression in parents is associated with depression, social phobia, disruptive behavior disorder, separation anxiety disorder, multiple anxiety disorder, and/or poorer social functioning in children.

Yet when parents are diagnosed, the children are often not even considered. We hope that this will prompt caregivers to notice whether the children are in any distress and to provide support for them, even at a very young age. And of course, we hope that parents will get the treatment and support that they themselves deserve, both for their own sake and for their children.

What are the Symptoms?

Children may have many of the same symptoms as adults. In general, though, children are more likely to develop phobias, anxieties, physical complaints, behavior problems and hallucinations. In addition, the pattern of symptoms in children can vary by age.

Infants and Toddlers?

developmental regression, increased crying, increased clinginess, increased anxiety, irritability, head banging, increased sleep issues, increased feeding problems, falling off growth curves, developmental delay, limited speech, limited social interaction


uncontrollable behavior, hyperactivity, tantrums, breath-holding, biting, kicking, scratching, nightmares, toileting problems (refusal, withholding, smearing, bedwetting, increased accidents.)

Is it contagious?

Depression in parents and caregivers can worsen depression in children, and vice versa.

How long does it last?

The symptoms of depression usually develop over several days or weeks. Without treatment, the depression usually lasts between six months and a year. These children will often become depressed more than once.

How is it diagnosed?

Whenever there is concern that a child might be depressed, an evaluation is important. This might include rating scales or structured interviews. Sometimes blood tests or EEGs are used to support the diagnosis.

How is it treated?

Depression in children may be treated with antidepressant medication and/or child therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy. The response to treatment in children can be quite good.

How can it be prevented?

Parents taking care of their own needs can help prevent depression in their children. In addition, nurturing attention, exploration and activity, good sleep, and good nutrition can be helpful. Some kids will become depressed, though, even in an ideal situation.

(This information has been made available from Dr. Green.com)

For further information on young children with depression, please see the following resources:

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