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RESEARCH

Depression

Research is shedding new light on what happens in the brains of children and adults affected by clinical depression, anxiety disorders and schizophrenia.

The finding point to new options for treating preschool-aged children with significant clinical depression, as well as those severely depressed adults who don't respond to standard treatments, such as antidepressants and psychotherapy. The studies have immediate relevance in terms of new treatment options and more targeted therapies for the estimated 57 million Americans who suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder.

Depression in preschoolers

Deanna Barch with Joan L. Luby, MD, associate professor of child psychiatry and founder and director of Washington University School of Medicine's Early Emotional Development Program, is currently investigating the efficacy of a new treatment program for clinically depressed children as young as age 3 — a time of significant neurobiological change when there is the potential to alter the course of depression later in life.

A number of epidemiological studies have reported that up to 2.5 percent of children and up to 8.3 percent of adolescents in the U.S. suffer from depression. But until recently, very little was known about the impact of depression on very young children, which is why Luby and her colleagues are studying children between the ages of 3 years and 6 years old to identify what clinical depression looks like in preschool children.

The team identified anhedonia — the inability to experience pleasure from activities and play — as a key symptom of depression in very young children. Another common symptom is that depressed children often use play to explore themes about death and sometimes even suicide.

Using a model similar to speech or other developmental therapies, this new program utilizes the interaction between parents and their children to teach depressed children how to experience positive emotions, manage negative emotions and more generally, how to enhance emotional development on a sustained basis.

Abstracts of Grants Relevant to this Project: CHAD Grant