School of Medicine

Why it’s key to identify preschoolers with anxiety and depression

New research shows these kids have mental and physical problems as they grow older

From Science News

Maybe, says Joan Luby, a psychiatrist at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Luby’s research has shown that treating preschoolers with depression helps the youngsters feel joy again, at least in the short term. “When you identify young children early” as needing help, Luby says, “you can treat them better.”…

Early treatment

With evidence mounting that mental health problems in preschool carry over into adulthood, researchers have begun looking into treating the very young. Work out of Luby’s lab, which focuses almost exclusively on preschool depression, is indicative.

In 2016, Luby showed that children with depression reacted less to rewards than their peers without depression. Her team hooked 78 children ranging in age from 4 to 7 to an electroencephelogram (EEG), a non-invasive machine that measures electrical activity in the brain. Fifty-three of those children had been diagnosed with depression.

The children played a guessing game on a computer. Children who gave more correct answers, as indicated by a green, upward facing arrow (compared to a red, downward-facing arrow for the wrong answer), gained more points and ultimately better prizes. The EEG revealed that even after choosing correctly, the depressed children showed less brain activity than their healthy peers — a sign that their responses to rewards were muted, Luby reported in October 2016 the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Similar inhibited responses to rewards have been linked to depression in adolescents and adults.

  Read more at Science News.