Saturday, December 26, 2015

Early childhood depression seriously affects brain development in children

Preschoolers who have suffered clinical depression are more likely to have altered brain development pattern as compared to those unaffected by the disorder, according to new research. Brain tissues, gray matter as we normally know them, transport signals across brain cells and are involved in functions like vision, hearing, memory, intelligence, emotion and logic. Children that have been affected by depression, apparently develops lower volume of gray matter, especially in the cortex region – the part predominantly responsible for dealing with emotions. 

Brain images of different children have shown how the brain’s anatomy changes significantly with the onset of depression during early childhood. This is quite contrary to the earlier belief that the brain has a predestined method of development in an individual, which is not much affected by the negative disposition, deprivation, poverty, familial support or parental nurturing, etc. The research findings help in understand why some individuals face difficulty in regulating their moods and emotions, when they grow up.

Gray matter, that develops as the child grows, is essentially a composition of neurons, along with axons extending from brain cells. Interestingly, the decline of gray matter starts happening around puberty, as the neurons develop the requisite efficiency in communicating with each other, to have to have the redundant parts and processes eliminated.  The development-and-decline follows an upturned U-curve. The process wherein the gray matter development is arrested, i.e. the outmoded brain cells die off, is known as ‘pruning’. Unfortunately, the U-curve for a child with depressed early years has a steeper drop, with a smaller base. The sharpness of this drop-off, along with the size of the brain, can be correlated with the severity of the depression suffered by the child. 

It goes beyond saying that these children are in the high risk zone and are under the threat of having retarded emotional intelligence and overall development of their personality. More and more physiologists, social scientists, brain researchers and educationists are trying to develop methods of identifying early signs of impeded brain development due to early childhood depression. It has been proven, that early identification and timely intervention can alter the trajectory of the hindered grey matter development cycle in individuals. 

Parents need to have the kind of inter-personal relationship and create an environment at home, that would ensure positive and wholesome emotional orientation in children and young adults. The lasting positive effects would go a long way in reducing emotional vulnerabilities in individuals when they grow up, resulting in a confident, self-assured personality that is necessary for sustainable and pleasurable long-term success and happiness.