Signs of depression and anxiety can be present in newborns, according to new research.
A study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry found certain patterns in the brain to be a possible predictor of babies developing traits - excessive sadness, shyness, nervousness or separation anxiety - by two years old that are linked to clinical depression.
Lead author of the study Dr Cynthia Rogers told The Huffington Post: “[Brain connectivity patterns] may indicate that for some children their brains are developing along a trajectory that increases their risk for mental health symptoms as they develop.”
“It’s important to note, however, that the experiences and environment that they are exposed to as they grow may alter these connectivity patterns making it more or less likely for these symptoms to develop.”
The study involved scanning the brains of 65 full-term babies and 57 pre-term babies, focusing on the amygdala - which is linked to the brain's fear response. Two years later, researchers conducted a mental health assessment on the children.
The results showed there was no difference between pre-term and full-term babies. The Huffington Post reports that in both groups, "Stronger connections between the amygdala and the insula (involved in consciousness and emotion) and the medial prefrontal cortex (involved in planning and decision-making) were associated with a higher risk of early signs of anxiety and depression at age two."
"This means that there are certain brain patterns already present at birth ― whether the baby is born early or on-time ― that can predict later risk of mental illness."
Researchers plan to evaluate the children when they are nine and ten years old.
“If we can understand what patterns of connectivity are related to early social and emotional impairments, we can then study what predicts those connectivity patterns,” she said. “We can evaluate whether there are experiences these children have while in the hospital or early in infancy that change these patterns for better or worse that we can aim to modify.”
Signs of anxiety and depression in small children
According to Beyond Blue children might need more support in the following situations:
- they feel anxious more than other children of a similar age
- anxiety stops them participating in activities at school or socially
- anxiety interferes with their ability to do things that other children their age can do
- their fears and worries seem out of proportion to the issues in their life.