A 23% growing concern: depression and suicide in pre-schoolers

“About 1 in 10 children as young as age 3 years may have suicidal thoughts or suggestive behaviours, and these linger into middle childhood for 3 of 4 children, particularly for those with depression or externalising disorders.”

It is completely normal for children to have mood swings and for their habits to change ever so slightly here and there. There does come a point where their instability and erratic moods become something to be concerned about. A shocking statistic has revealed that 4% of US preschoolers are affected by depression and it is rising by an alarming 23% each year. Even more frightening is that, according to the FDA, 4% of children have experienced suicidal thoughts, regardless of being on medication to alleviate their depression. Suicide is thought to be the leading cause of death in children ranging between ten and fourteen years of age.

Childhood depression and suicide is on the rise and it is something that both parents and educators alike need to be aware of, as it is often not “just a phase”. Many thought processes begin in childhood early childhood teachers are in a great position when it comes to early intervention. They spend hours each day with children, facilitating their growth and development.

Generally speaking, if a child is showing any symptoms more than twice a week, professionals strongly advise that you make an appointment with your paediatrician or therapist.

Understanding depression or mental health issues in young children can be difficult. It’s easy to miss the signs at any age but especially when children may not be able to express themselves as well as older children or adults.

Consider these things when looking out for potential issues.

  • Sadness
  • Withdrawal from socialising with their friends or playmates
  • Unexplained physical symptoms (pain all over body etc.) that do not improve with treatment
  • Change in mood
  • Irritability
  • Playing games that centre around death or dying
  • Any recent morbid fascinations
  • Outbursts
  • Constant fatigue
  • Changes in their eating and sleeping patterns
  • Refusal to eat
  • Increased sensitivity to rejection.

Children do not need to be showing all of these symptoms, but as a teacher, you will often know when something is amiss. More often than not, childhood depression starts off as anxiety. One of the biggest signs of General Anxiety Disorder in children is constant worry, especially about the future. It may be long term or short term, however, the worry will be all consuming and have a very real effect on your child. There are many different factors that could contribute to a child’s depression such as their immediate environment, a sudden death of someone close and often, a family history of anxiety and depression has a huge impact.

Another factor that is often not thought of is attention-deficit disorder, also known as ADD or ADHD. A disorder that is still very misunderstood and misdiagnosed. This is often because this particular group of children are not able to respond to interpersonal challenges but can also be because of all of the different medications that the child is put on in order to stabilise them. Although there are many treatments for depression in adults, it is much more limited when it comes to children.

Governing health authorities such as the FDA have not yet approved an antidepressant for young children (0–7 years old) as the long term effects are not yet evident and so if a professional does prescribe an antidepressant to a young child, it really is as a last resort or when the child has not responded to other therapies. Medication may also be administered if the child is displaying signs of bipolar disorder. Depression leading to suicide is rare in pre-adolescent and preschool going children, but it is on the rise. Depression and worry may also start in preschool age and materialise fully as the child gets older. If children in your care begin to show signs of generalised anxiety disorder or depression for at least two weeks.

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