Characteristics of depressed preschoolers with and without anhedonia:
evidence for a melancholic depressive subtype in young children

by
Luby JL, Mrakotsky C, Heffelfinger A, Brown K, Spitznagel E.
Department of Psychiatry, Washington University School of Medicine,
660 S. Euclid Ave., Box 8134, St. Louis, MO 63110, USA.
luby@psychiatry.wustl.edu
Am J Psychiatry. 2004 Nov;161(11):1998-2004.


ABSTRACT

OBJECTIVE: This study investigated whether a melancholic subtype similar to that established in depressed adults can be identified in depressed preschool children. METHOD: A final group total of 156 preschool children between the ages of 3.0 and 5.6 years and their caregivers underwent a comprehensive psychiatric assessment that included a structured psychiatric interview modified for young children. The clinical characteristics of four study groups (N=156) were compared: depressed preschoolers with anhedonia, depressed preschoolers without anhedonia ("hedonic"), a psychiatric comparison group with DSM-IV attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and/or oppositional defiant disorder, and a healthy comparison group. RESULTS: Fifty-four depressed preschoolers were identified, and 57% of this depressed group was anhedonic, a symptom deemed to be highly developmentally and clinically significant when arising in the preschool period. The anhedonic depressed subgroup identified was characterized by greater depression severity, alterations in stress cortisol reactivity, increased family history of major depressive disorder, and increased frequency of psychomotor retardation as well as other melancholic symptoms, such as a lack of brightening in response to joyful events. CONCLUSIONS: The clinical characteristics of this depressed subgroup are consistent with those described in melancholic depressed adults and suggest that a melancholic depressed subtype can be manifest in children as young as age 3.
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