Early Signs of Anxiety and Depression Could Be Detected in Children Straight From Birth

Although symptoms of anxiety and depression have the potential to materialize in kids as young as 2, a new study reveals that these early signs could be detected in newborns. Factors such as genetics, environment, and experiences all have an influence on a person's likelihood of exhibiting signs of mental illness, but the study, conducted by the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, claims that patterns in a newborn's brain connectivity could predict whether they may experience symptoms years before they happen.

"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," Dr. Cynthia Rogers, a child psychiatrist at Washington University in St. Louis and lead author of this study, told The Huffington Post. "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 looked at MRI brain scans of 65 full-term babies and 57 premature babies to see the patterns between their amygdalas — where the brain interprets fear — and other brain regions. They were then assessed at 2 years old for any early signs of anxiety or depression. Researchers found that whether the child was full term or preterm, certain connections between the amygdala and other parts of the brain — the insula and medial prefrontal cortex, which involve emotions, consciousness, planning, and decision making — were associated with a higher risk of early signs of anxiety and depression at 2 years.

"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," Rogers 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."

If you think your child may be exhibiting signs or symptoms of anxiety or depression, consult their pediatrician to discuss a potential course of action.

This article was originally published on February 7, 2017,