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Vital Signs

Fall 2005

Depression Hard for Parents to Recognize in Children

Although most commonly associated with adolescents and adults, depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders are found in children as young as preschool-age. “While it’s easy for parents to recognize externalizing, ‘acting-out’ kinds of behaviors, it’s very difficult for them to recognize depression in their own children,” says Mary J. O’Connor, Ph.D., ABPP, UCLA developmental psychologist. “They might see them as irritable, negative, or merely sad.”

Signs that children might need to be evaluated include withdrawal from friends and activities they once enjoyed, decline in school performance or attendance, excessive anxiety, and changes in eating or sleep habits, Dr. O’Connor notes, adding that any expression of suicidal ideation among children as young as 5 years should be taken very seriously.

“Often, parents have trouble acknowledging that their child might benefit from mental health services, but it’s important for them to realize that there is treatment available that is highly effective,” says Bhavik Shah, M.D., a UCLA child psychiatrist. “In addition to medication, cognitive behavioral therapy is extremely important. Finding ways to improve the child’s school and family environment can have a dramatic effect on the child’s self-esteem, with rapid improvements.”

Drs. O’Connor and Shah are the program director and medical director, respectively, of a new outpatient program at the Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital at UCLA: the UCLA Program for the Enhancement of Achievement, Behavior and Cognition (UCLA ABC). The program offers short-term therapy and instruction for children ages 3 to 12 years with disorders involving mood, anxiety, impulse control, attention and hyperactivity, fetal alcohol exposure, autism, depression and neurodevelopmental challenges, including mental retardation.

Parents wondering whether their child should be seen at the UCLA ABC program are encouraged to call (310) 825-0210 and speak with an intake coordinator.

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