Researchers have discovered that children as young as 3 years could be victims of major depressive disorder (MDD).
It was observed that such kids demonstrated patterns of brain activation very similar to those seen in adults diagnosed with the same disorder.
“When you think about it, most of the core symptoms of depression are developmentally broad,” said Joan Luby, director of the early emotional development program at Washington University in St. Louis.
“Sadness and irritability can occur at any age from infancy to very old age. But symptoms like anhedonia were thought to be adult problems because it’s often talked about as decreased libido. That, obviously, doesn’t occur in young children. But when you developmentally translate it to an absence of joyfulness, especially when joyfulness is the dominant mood state of young children, you have a pretty robust clinical marker,” she added.
The researchers scanned 11 depressed children within an average age of 4.5 years while they viewed faces with different expressions of emotion.
The results showed that there was a significant correlation between the severity of the depression and increased activity in the right amygdala, the same pattern of activity viewed in adults with depression.
“There is something about the experience of depression in very early childhood that seems to leave an enduring mark on the brain—these kids are more likely to be depressed as adults, too,” Joan explained.
The study has been published in the Journal of Affective Disorders.