The boy was upset and took his life. (Representational Image)Creative Commons

Kids as small as three can be clinically depressed, and often the depression can recur as they get older. It can give them a tough time during adolescence or even throughout their life.

Parent-child therapy can help these young children with depression says the new study from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

The study demonstrates that a parent-child interactive therapy can reduce rates of depression and the severity rates of children's symptoms.

Principal investigator Joan L. Luby said, "By identifying depression as early as possible and then helping children try to change the way they process their emotions, we believe it may be possible to change the trajectory of depression and perhaps reduce or prevent recurrent bouts of the disorder later in life."

The study published in The American Journal of Psychiatry says that Luby and his team adapted Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT) which involved adding a series of sessions focused on emotions.

PCIT was developed to correct disruptive behavior in preschoolers in the 1970s.

Luby, Samuel, and Mae S. Ludwig Professor of Psychiatry said, "We consider depression to be an impairment of the ability to experience and regulate emotions."

How does the therapy work?

The therapy which focuses more on enhancing the emotional development involves an 18-week, 20-session program.

"For example, we coach parents how to manage a child's emotional responses to stressful situations," Luby said.

The team studied 229 parent-child pairs, in which the children were three to seven years old diagnosed with depression.

Half the children with depression received adapted therapy - PCIT-ED. When compared to those kids who were placed on a wait list for the therapy, the children who received treatment right away had lower rates of depression after 18-weeks and less impairment overall.

The team is also analyzing how long the effects of the therapy last. They are checking on the improvements after treatment and see any symptoms of depression return. The children will hopefully be followed till adolescence to see the intervention therapy during childhood would give any benefits.

Interestingly, the researchers have also found that the symptoms of clinical depression improved in the parents who worked along with their kids during the study.

Luby said, "Even without targeting the parent directly, if a parent has been depressed, his or her depression improves. It previously had been demonstrated that if you treat a parent's depression, a child's depression improves, but this is powerful new data suggesting that the reverse also is true."

Luby added that the therapy conducted between the parent and child need not be done by a psychiatrist and can be delivered by master's degree-level clinicians.

She said, "This is a therapy that could be widely disseminated. Since it only takes 18 weeks and doesn't require a child psychologist or psychiatrist, we think it would be highly feasible to deliver in community clinics from a practical standpoint and in terms of cost."