Depression changes young brains
Yes, preschoolers can be depressed. And, according to research from Washington University in St. Louis, the effect on their brains is similar to what’s seen in adolescents and adults. Using functional MRI, the scientists found that the depressed children’s brains showed greater activity in both the right amygdala and right thalamus—an effect that mimics what has been observed in adults with the condition.
This study examined 23 children between the ages of 4 and 6 years old who had been diagnosed with depression and compared their brain scans to those of 31 healthy peers. The children were shown pictures of happy, sad, fearful or neutral faces. That the brain activity seen in depressed kids was similar to what has been observed in depressed adults indicates consistency across neurobiological models of depression. The study also found that these changes were different from those exhibited in kids with neurological disorders, autism, developmental disorders or those who had been born prematurely.
According to the researchers, this should help doctors better define symptoms or biological markers to help treat and prevent depression.