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How Clinical Depression Can Affect A Toddler’s Brain

Now that everyone’s acknowledged that maybe little kids shouldn’t be medicated with psychiatric drugs to address behavior problems, let’s move on to the next uncomfortable conversation about cutting edge tiny brain research: It turns out, preschool-age kids can be clinically depressed, and the symptoms of early depression not only predict an adult diagnosis — they actually change how the brain develops.

The JAMA Psychiatry study followed 193 children ages 3 to 6 for 11 years. Brain scans over time revealed that the kids with depressive symptoms — like low energy, changes in appetite, and a tough time concentrating — lost more volume and thickness of “gray matter” in their brains as time passed, compared to those without symptoms. Before you ask, yes, a kid’s gray matter is still developing in the same way their stubby little legs are developing so, needless to say, losing any at a young age is a bad thing.

The findings emphasize how important it is for parents to recognize depressive behavior in their toddlers early on. The medical establishment, meanwhile, needs to keep researching the phenomenon in order to determine the best therapies and treatments. Because, even if your own kid is clinically depressed at a young age, no one involved with the research thinks you should be putting Prozac in their Cheerios.