Mental health professionals fear that the modern day stressors plaguing parents in the middle class are also hurting toddlers and young children. Although the term "toddler depression" seems like something made up by parents as an excuse for badly behaved children, medical professionals assure us that the problem really does exist. Doctors suggest that as many as two percent of US toddlers may have undiagnosed depression.
In this day and age, parents can be guilty of overreacting to physical symptoms or even engaging in hypochondria on behalf of their kids. Now more than ever parents are on the lookout for behavior or mental health issues that, a generation ago, would have been dismissed as personality traits. However, the reality is that there may actually be something to worry about.
Depression in young children can manifest in lack of energy, headaches, nighttime bed-wetting accidents and being extra clingy during the day. These symptoms can go on for weeks, months or even years. Sadly, psychologists, teachers and parents agree that depression among young children is on the rise. The problem is so profound that schools are beginning to implement counseling programs for elementary students, preschoolers and their parents.
The cause of the increase in childhood depression, however, is still being debated. Some researchers suggest that the illness is caused by factors in the child’s environment while other professionals blame problems with the brain’s chemistry or a genetic pre-disposition.
An overwhelming amount of medical evidence suggests that the increase in depression among pre-schoolers is due to both an increase in the awareness of mental illness and a lack of emotional support given to young children by stressed out and busy parents. This phenomenon seems to occur in households of every socioeconomic class, but more commonly in families with economic problems (which can actually include "rich" families as well as "poor").
Situations that likely increase the chances of toddler depression include being raised by a mother that suffered from postpartum depression (most commonly after the birth of a younger sibling), the addition of a younger sibling that is enjoying the lion’s share of attention that used to be bestowed entirely upon the older child, a father who works so much that he only sees the kids on the weekends or when they are already asleep, being raised by parent that has mental illness themselves, or having parents who are inept at hiding the stress and anxiety they experience from modern day pressures.
Many professionals believe, however, that the most common cause of childhood depression is being raised during the formative years by a revolving roster of nannies and family members when mom goes back to work, And, since moms aren’t entirely unaware of the dangers that going back to work can pose to their children, a mother’s guilt and stress about the situation is felt by the child, thus increasing the potential for harm. Children need loving, consistent care during for the first couple of years in order to develop a proper level of emotional security. Failure to provide this consistency may result in insecurities and, in the long run, affect the way children feel about themselves and relate to those around them.
A recent report on well-being in children revealed that some of the most modern nations have the most unhappy children. Doctors fear that children are being exposed to these emotionally unhealthy situations earlier than ever. Children as young as five years old are reporting suicidal feelings. Bad behavior, sleep disturbances and lack of appetite are all symptoms that are being seen repeatedly in depressed kids.
Treatment for this new trend in toddler depression seems to depend on whether the medical provider subscribes to the environmental model or biological model. For now, US doctors seem to be leaning toward the biological. Children between the ages of 2 and 5 are being prescribed anti-psychotic drugs at an alarming rate. Given the potential danger the drugs pose to developing bodies, there is now an urgent need to identify at-risk children as young as possible and begin a course of psychological therapy in order to stave off the need for serious psychiatric meds.