TIME Mental Health/Psychology

Young Kids Diagnosed with Depression Can’t Shake It Later, Study Says

New research shows it's hard for young children to get past depression

Children diagnosed with depression in preschool are likely to continue to be depressed throughout adolescence, according to a new study.

Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis tracked 246 children ages 3-5 to ages 9-12 and found that depressed preschoolers are 2.5 times more likely to suffer from the condition in elementary and middle school, according to the study published in the July issue of The American Journal of Psychiatry.

At the beginning of the study, 74 of the children were diagnosed with depression. Six years later, 79 of the children from the larger group had clinical depression, and 51% of the 74 children originally diagnosed were still depressed. By contrast, only 25% of the 172 children who were initially not depressed went on to develop depression during elementary and middle school.

“It’s the same old bad news about depression; it is a chronic and recurrent disorder,” child psychiatrist Joan L. Luby, who directs Washington University’s Early Emotional Development Program, said in a statement. “But the good news is that if we can identify depression early, perhaps we have a window of opportunity to treat it more effectively and potentially change the trajectory of the illness so that it is less likely to be chronic and recurring.”

The researchers also identified some of the factors that put children at a higher risk of becoming depressed: Children with depressed mothers were more likely to become depressed themselves, and children who were diagnosed with a conduct disorder in preschool were more likely to become depressed by middle school (though significant maternal support mitigated the latter risk). But neither of these factors mattered as much as an early depression diagnosis.

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