Detecting depression and anxiety in newborn children

Getting anxious or depressed is a common response to stressful situations. Some people may experience continued feelings of sadness, worry or fear on daily basis and may find it difficult to overcome negative thoughts. Many a times, cases of depression and anxiety are identified when patients self-report about the nature of their emotions or behavior, the experiences they had in their past or suicidal thoughts they may be experiencing often. A new study, titled, “Neonatal Amygdala Functional Connectivity at Rest in Healthy and Preterm Infants and Early Internalizing Symptoms” has paved way for early detection of symptoms of depression and anxiety by scanning brains of newborns. The study got published online in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (JAACAP) in February 2017.

While elaborating on the observations made, one of the co-authors of the study, Dr. Cynthia Rogers, an assistant professor of child psychiatry said that brain connections at birth may lead to problems in later life. The researchers examined brain scans of newborn babies to look for early indicators of potential anxiety and depression in them. The robustness and pattern of connections between the amygdala and some regions of the brain helped them understand the probabilities of the babies unconsciously exhibiting signs of grief, extreme shyness, nervousness or separation anxiety by the time they turn two. Such manifestations have been associated with clinical depressive disorder and anxiety disorders in older kids and adults.

Functional MRI scans in 65 full-fledged newborns and 57 premature babies born at least ten weeks prior to the due date were conducted to pinpoint distinctions in functional brain connectivity, i.e., activity regulation across differing segments of the brain between premature newborns and those born at full term. This could provide proof to explain as to why premature newborns are at a greater likelihood of suffering from psychological disorders like depression and persistent anxiety when they grow up. The team also turned their attention to understanding how the amygdala, responsible for processing of emotions, relates to other brain regions.

Connectivity between amygdala and other brain regions in newborns similar with adults

The researchers observed similarity between full-term newborns’ patterns of association between the amygdala and other brain regions and those observed in prior researchers on adults. Though the connectivity patterns existed in premature newborns too, the stability of association between amygdala and other brain regions were considerably low. They also observed that the connectivity patterns between the amygdala and other brain regions like the insula involved in consciousness and emotional processing, and the medial prefrontal cortex guiding decision-making and planning, heightened the potential of initial signs of depressive disorder and anxiousness.

The researchers did not rule out the possibility of other factors like economic condition of the family and genetic presence of mental health problems in primarily mothers, that increased the risk of full-term babies being afflicted with mental health disorders. They aim to take a step forward and study children when they turn nine or ten to learn if brain connections continue to impact mental health.

Seek help for mental health disorders

Though patients have greater chances of recovery after being prescribed the necessary medication and therapies, recent studies highlight the need to assess symptoms of psychological disorders at a younger age to control the impact.

If you or someone you know is battling anxiety or depression, it is imperative to seek help from trained professionals and certified centers. The 24/7 Mental Health Helpline can provide details of some of the best mental health counseling programs that can help in sustained recovery. You can also call our24/7 helpline number 855-653-8178 or chat online with our experts who can guide you about the various residential mental health facilities in your area.