Joan Luby, a Professor of Psychiatry in the Early Emotional Development Program at the Washington University School of Medicine, argues in a new journal article (Luby, 2010) that preschool depression is a real disorder that is important to identify early on. Preschool depression refers to preschool-aged children (between 3 and 6 years old) suffering from significant depressive symptoms that cause impairment in the child’s daily functioning and development.
She argues, however, that we can’t use the adult criteria for depression, since some of those criteria wouldn’t make sense in a preschool child. A preschool child, for instance, can’t experience the loss of sexual pleasure, but they can experience a loss of enjoyment in ordinary child play activities.
It makes a sort of sense on the face of it, but seems to start leading us down a slippery-slope of “adjusting” symptom criteria until they bear little resemblance to the original disorder.
“Using age-adjusted symptom manifestations, studies have now shown that preschool children do display typical symptoms of depression rather than “masked” symptoms, very similar to findings already well established in school-age children,” notes Luby in the article.
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