Depression may start in the brains of children as young as seven – and warning signs could predict future emotional problems, a study suggests.
For many people with depression, symptoms such as anxiety and lack of enjoyment do not start until their teenage years.
But US researchers who studied almost 100 children found they could predict which would suffer depressive symptoms at the age of 11 by scanning their brains when they were seven.
The 94 youngsters, when scanned in an MRI machine, appeared to have less of a connection between two parts of the brain believed to control decision-making and mood.
High blood flow between these brain regions indicates that cells are ‘talking’ to each other, and suggests those children manage their emotions well.
But low blood flow may suggest the opposite, and these children showed more signs of depression in a behavioural assessment four years later.
To judge this, researchers from Northeastern University in Boston interviewed the children’s parents.
Separately, they graded the youngsters on ‘internalising’ behaviours such as withdrawing from friends and family, signs of anxiety and physical symptoms such as extreme tiredness.
The study, published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, found almost one in five children saw their depressive symptoms worsen over the four years.
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