Can Toddlers Get Depressed?

Many experts maintain that toddlers are too psychologically immature to experience depression, a growing number of child psychologists believe it can hit children as young as 2 or 3. They believe that treating the condition immediately can rewire the brain in a way that diminishes the problem later on.

According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, about 5 percent of children and adolescents suffer from depression at any given point in life.

So how can a parent, teacher or friend tell if a child or adolescent is depressed?

Here are five signs to look out for in your toddler:

  1. Inability to experience joy or pleasure: In toddlers it might be noted as an indifference to once beloved toys
  2. Morbid Play: Toddlers my “orchestrate scenarios around violence or death”.
  3. Frustrated outbursts that stem from sadness: One worrisome clue is that the child is frequently unable to process or resolve the sadness and lashes out in frustration and self-criticism.
  4. Anxiety: One “biological marker” of childhood depression is a rise sin the stress-related hormone cortisol during fraught situations, and the failure of those levels to recover in normal fashion. Children with preschool depression are more than four times as likely to develop clinical anxiety by school age, according to Helen Egger, a Duke University child psychiatrist and epidemiologist.
  5. Another behavioral disorder: Egger has found the three quarters of the depressed kids she’s studied also have some other disorder such as ADHD and oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)-which are both symptomatically similar to depression. Those disorders often mask depression.

Emotional support

In times of depression, what everyone needs most, especially a child, is emotional support. Life is trying, and they’re struggling. The absolute best action we can take for them is to be there for them emotionally. Make them feel like they aren’t alone; let them feel we’re there to help them, let them see we will help pick them up. Just one time will have a profound effect, but doing it consistently? Their lives will be so much better for it. Give them hugs, talk to them, listen if they’re able to speak, let them feel our presence, play with them, give them our time. After all, it’s what’s most needed right now. It may not fix the problem immediately, but with time and effort, they can overcome their depression.


Spending time with us is all well and good and will certainly go a long way, but something which may push them beyond is social interaction. Get them with children their age and encourage them to have fun. Show them it’s okay for them to have fun. Take them to the park or a bouncy house and let them run wild for a while. Positive interaction has a proven positive reaction to the dopamine centers in our brains and triggers endorphins as well, all of which helps to balance out the other chemicals within their brains, contributing to their depression. It also helps boosts their metabolism, so if they’ve been struggling with eating, social interaction can help with it.

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