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Meredith Alexander, News Service (650) 725-0224; e-mail

Childhood Depression Awareness Day is May 8; Stanford conducts research on the subject

Researchers at Stanford are fighting childhood depression with two studies aimed at helping to diagnose children at risk for the condition. As Childhood Depression Awareness Day nears on Tuesday, May 8 the Stanford team also seeks to find ways to prevent this devastating disorder.

"Depression is becoming a major epidemic," said psychology Professor Ian Gotlib, whose lab is the site of the studies. The rates of depression among all age groups have moved steadily upward, Stanford researchers said.

Depression has been estimated to cost the United States at least $44 billion in lost days of work, medical costs and increased accidents. The World Health Organization predicts that by 2020, depression will be the second-most burdensome disease in the world. It currently is ranked fifth.

And in an alarming trend, depression is emerging among younger and younger children, according to Saskia Traill, a graduate student in psychology who works with Gotlib.

Stanford researchers are seeking answers. Under the leadership of Gotlib, two graduate students, Traill and Pam Schraedley, are conducting studies that deal with children of depressed parents and teenagers with symptoms of depression. By looking at many different forms of psychological evidence, the two hope to find groundbreaking ways of determining who is at risk for depression and how it can be prevented.

Most diagnoses of depression rely on questionnaires or interviews. Traill and Schraedley's approach, however, encompasses functional magnetic resonance imaging of the brain's activity, as well as physiological measures of the body's response to social situations, computerized tests and more traditional interviews.

According to Traill, about 80 percent of children who become depressed will experience recurring symptoms later in life. That is why finding ways to prevent the onset of depression among the young is doubly important, Traill says.

Some common symptoms of childhood depression include sadness, loss of interest or pleasure in things the child normally enjoys, irritability, trouble sleeping or eating, difficulty concentrating and morbid thoughts.

The studies are in need of participants. If you would like more information or are interested in getting involved, phone 1-866-SAD-KIDS.


By Meredith Alexander

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