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Depression in Children

Sara's concerned about her families history of depression and wonders if her toddler is exhibiting the signs.  Can it start that young?

I am a Portland mom looking for advice on preventing depression and anxiety in a child with a strong family history of mood disorders. My daughter is 2 and a half, and shows signs of anxiety, withdrawal, fearfulness, and perfectionism. Her behavior is not at all out of the range of "normal", in my opinion, and I know that 2.5-year-olds are not generally known as paragons of emotional stability anyway, but I am watching her with some concern because of her genetic risk. I would very much like to hear from other parents who have experience with this issue, and get suggestions on simple parenting tips that may be effective in reducing anxiety and depressive cognitive patterns in a kid. I know I can't make everything rosy for my girl, but I can't bear the thought of her having to struggle with the kind of self-loathing depressive spirals I've seen my husband suffer through. I believe that helping her develop healthy emotional habits now can't hurt, and might protect her from the sadder side of her inheritance. I would love any advice! Thanks!


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Yes, depression can start that early and it's really great that you are recognizing that she might be struggling a little more than the average 2 year old. Play therapy can be a very helpful thing, and a good therapist will work with you to help your daughter work through some of her sadness.

Leasia Becker of Mosaic Counseling has had many, many years of treating children. She has a very busy schedule, but if she can't fit you in, then she will refer you. She has a webpage at http://www.mosaiccounseling.com

Also, the Children's Program works with children and families.

I work a lot with kids in foster care and hear a lot that children that young can't be treated or assessed. If you hear that, move on. It's just not true.

Keep in mind that depression is an illness, like diabetes. It is not always caused by sad or bad things happening. Treatment is an important part. You might start by going to see your pediatrician to see what s/he thinks. Parents have the best instinct as to what is going on with their little ones, and MDs know that. It might just be something you need to watch, but at least if you know the signs and symptoms, you can be quick to act. I commend you for asking and seeking advice. We all want our children to be well adjusted and happy. While, as you said, everything can't be rosy all of the time, it should be some or most of the time. My background is in children and family social work, and I can tell you, the children who have attentive parents who are willing to seek help and advice at the first signs of trouble have the best outcomes.

Another great therapist who has a lot of experience with children
Janet Barlow 503.806.2495

As a (currently non-practicing) play therapist, I also highly recommend this form of assistance for your needs. Filial therapy is training that is given to parents by professional play therapists in order to work effectively with your own child at home as the facilitator of therapeutic change - including for childhood depression. Many therapists do not see children under age six (I treated kids as young as three), but I'd encourage you to search for someone you trust who will see younger children and who could train you in Filial Therapy.

I highly recommend a diet high in good protein, cod liver oil, low sugar and white flour and lots of sleep! Check out The Mood Cure for information about supplements, too. She doesn't address children specifically but diet-based treatments can obviously be used for kids. I tend toward the anxious/perfectionistic and get depressed when I feel like I'm not measuring up. I find that I'm much better at managing these tendancies when I eat lots of eggs, chicken, take my CLO and other supplements. You could do this on a vegetarian diet, too, of course.

You're wise to be awake to this. As I'm sure you know, it's not fun when these tendancies get the better of us.

Check out "The Optimistic Child" by Martin E.P. Seligman, Ph.D. It's subtitle is" "A proven program to safeguard children against depression and build lifelong resilience." I've heard it is wonderful which is why I bought it in the first place. Life got away from me and I haven't read it, but I'm glad to have pulled it back off the shelf and will be giving it a thorough read. Good luck.

You might check out The Hidden Gifts of the Introverted Child by Marti Olsen Laney, if you think your daughter might be an introvert (needs more alone time, vivid imagination, seems to like one close friend vs. wanting to play with a huge group). It might complement other avenues you try. Good luck.

there is a great web sight packed with info that will shed light on children's emotions and how to help them with all they are feeling and going through. it's called
Hand in Hand.
i use this web sight all the time as a reference and it has always come through for me.

Someone above mentioned filial therapy and I can recommend Susie Snyder for this. She's great. It was also mentioned to stay away from someone who says you can't diagnose at that age. In a sense, yes, be leery, but also be leery of someone who wants to jump on the diagnosis bandwagon. At this age there is such a broad range of normal development and so many environmental interventions you can do that if you get a label for her own personality you can sometimes narrow your view too much. Obviously you're aware of her potential for it, so I'm not trying to say you're off base. You obviously know her best. Just be careful. As someone in the field, I know how quickly this can turn into more than it has to necessarily has to be. I also second the recommendation for a trip to the pediatrician. I know anytime I think there's something wrong with my kids I've loved hearing "they're fine" from someone with a much broader perspective than mine!

Also, University of Washington in Seattle has a program for infant mental health, which basically goes birth-3. They may have a local referral list. As might the Relief Nursery in St. Johns.

I just wanted to thank all of you who posted. We have no budget for therapy, and we're not concerned enough for intervention at this point, but play therapy is certainly something I will keep in mind. I found the book on raising introverted kids really helpful. I really appreciate the support from all of you. Thank you.

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