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Even Babies Can Be Depressed

For a long time, people didn't believe that children could become depressed, but they certainly can

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Many see depression as an adult problem. But it doesn’t require a mortgage or marriage to send someone spiraling downward. According to a study from 2006, one in 40 infants experience depression. As ABC News reported, depressed babies show two key symptoms. “First, depressed babies do not exhibit a lot of emotion. Second, depressed babies may have trouble eating or sleeping, and may be irritable.” Other researchers study preschool depression, and as kids get older they become more and more likely to develop depression. Between ages 12 and 15, for example, the depression rates of girls triples.

At Scientific American Mind, Deborah Serani explains that, for a long time, people didn’t believe that children could become depressed. It wasn’t until recently that doctors and scientists started seriously delving into pediatric depression:

The 21st century showed a rapid growth of clinical interest in mood disorders in children, influenced by advances in medical technology and the field of neurobiology joining forces with psychology and psychiatry. Evidenced based research studies started streaming in, each one validating aspects of pediatric depression, its symptoms, etiology and methods of treatment. Scientists agreed that though children had immature and underdeveloped affective (emotional) and cognitive (thinking) skills, depression was something they can experience. Children have mood changes, are capable of having negative thoughts, and tend to show depressive symptoms more behavioral ways. Examples like joyless facial responses, listless body posture, unresponsive eye gaze, slowed physical reactions and irritable or fussy mannerisms, just to name a few. Not only did studies confirm the existence of Pediatric Depression, but distinctive symptoms were seen in differing stages of childhood. These results widened the scope of understanding depression in children, and helped highlight that patterns of depression vary with a child’s age.

Serani has a book out now on how to deal with depression in kids. She says that avoiding the topic, assuming kids aren’t mature enough to talk about depression and hoping that it will just go away aren’t the right way to handle it. Just like with most adults, most children need professional attention to overcome depression.

More from Smithsonian.com:

New Gene Provides Link Between Stress and Depression
Could Diet Soda Cause Clinical Depression?

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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