These are questions I get asked all the time from concerned parents.
Lets go over some of the facts:
In the 1940’s some research was done that indicated clinical depression in infants that were deprived of a primary caregiving relationship.1
In the years to come and through developmental theory, it was suggested that actually children are too immature to experience the core emotions of depression. Subsequently, ruling out clinical depression in infants.1
Empirical data shows that infants can distinguish emotions by 6-8 months including sadness and joy.
So, what’s clear is that mental health and depression does start at a young age, but it is unclear exactly how and why emotional development unfolds during infancy. However, in my own thought process, I feel like if adults have to take medications for example SSRI’s or the like to stabilize their serotonin and dopamine levels then wouldn’t it make sense that this was probably an ongoing issue from childhood? Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t want a bunch of kids walking around with labels like clinical depression and adjustment disorder just because they were a fussy babe. However, should we not consider that some children perhaps do struggle with mental health from a young age?
It has been shown in research that a mother’s serotonin and dopamine levels have a direct effect on the infant levels. The infants that had higher levels of dopamine and serotonin and lower levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) had better stability and excitability scores on the BNBAS.2
Why do we care? Because the earlier you can offer intervention, the more benefit the client is going to get. For example, the preschool period has been researched for some disruptive disorders and it is shown that the earlier the intervention the better the outcome. One report stated, “This may be related to greater neuroplasticity and therefore increased sensitivity to environmental inputs earlier in development”3
It is likely that earlier intervention is particularly important for depressive disorders due to the chronic, relapsing course depression takes, the minimal treatment responses, and the high rate of resistance in depressed adolescents to treatment.
Early identification s imperative and early interventions are necessary to help advance public healthcare.
Let me know what you think through a comment.
Are you struggling with depression or know someone who is? The most courageous thing you can do is try to understand your own story. Call, email or text today!
- Edited by Zeanah, Charles. (2019). Handbook of Infant Mental Health. Fourth Edition
- Field, Deigo, Hernandez-Reif, Figueiredo, etc. (2009, Dec 1). Prenatal Dopamine and Neonatal Behavior and Biochemistry. Infant Behavioral Development. PMC. Doi: 10.1016/j.infbeh.2008.07.007
- Kennard et al., 2006; Weisz, McCarty, & Valeri, 2006
- Troller-Renfree & Fox, 2016