ABC News had a report this week on the belief that 1 in 40 infants may suffer from depression. The explanation goes beyond a slow to warm up temperment and brain chemistry, and has more to do with family environment. The story describes how a neglectful family environment can create the problem, and also raises the question about appropriate treatments.
Research has long confirmed that genetics and brain chemistry play critical roles in the emotional health of babies and young children, but doctors stress that the mental health of the parent or caregiver also has a critical impact.
“It’s not like you’re going to put the 10-month-old on the couch and do psychotherapy with them, but you work with the family caregivers to try to get them to understand what’s going on with their child and to work with them on becoming more responsive and better parents,” Shatkin said.
There is also some limited discussion about the possibility of giving infants antidepressant medication. Overall, I think that referring to infants as having “depression” raises questions on how labels are applied and how depression is defined. The story also has a poll on whether medication is appropriate, and only 0.25% of over 4000 people said that it was. If having to say that an infant is depressed is what it takes for families with serious problems to get treatment then I’m for it, but I worry that if someone is labeled as depressed before their first birthday it can profoundly affect their identity development later in life.
Meek, W. (2006). Infant Depression?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 10, 2015, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2006/11/10/infant-depression/