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Recognizing Childhood Depression

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Depression in children, even among toddlers, is an increasingly recognized problem. An estimated 7 to 14 percent of children will experience an episode of major depression before the age of 15. (1) Joan L. Luby, M.D. a professor of child psychiatry at Washington University at St. Louis, has extensive research interest and experience in the area of mood disorders and depression in preschool children. (2)

Her work demonstrates that children as young as 3 years old can become clinically depressed. They experience the same symptoms and severity as the type of depression observed in adults. (3)

Major depression is a serious condition that can take over a child’s mood and thoughts. Repeated episodes take a toll on the developing mind and negatively impact social development, learning and building of self-esteem. All children experience sadness and may act depressed at some time in their lives.

Most get over these symptoms in a few days, while others do not. Children with depression feel a constant sense of discouragement, loss of self-worth and loses interest in activities they once enjoyed.

Depression is not caused by one factor or event, but rather, the result of several factors, which vary among individuals. Three main factors influence the onset of depression -- genetics, neurochemistry and life experiences.

Genetics may serve as a predisposing factor to depression, however, there is growing evidence that the ongoing and repeated interactions within the family have a greater influence. (4)

Lowered levels of the neurotransmitters serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine have been linked to depression. Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers which the brain uses to communicate within itself and the nervous system. (5) Significant life experiences such as the death of a loved one or a divorce, serious illness and physical, emotional or sexual abuse can lead to depression.

Parents should seek help if one or more of the following symptoms of depression persist.

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