• By Laura Whybra
  • Posted on Thursday 02nd May, 2013

To relieve depression – start E for early

strong>Research shows that an investment in high quality childcare can help to break the cycle of poverty and depression that afflicts families under stress.Studies show that living with parents who are stressed out by money problems is not good for kids’ mental health. What isn’t yet clear is how to prevent depression among poor children and, thereby, help break the vicious cycle of poverty and depression.As social evils the two are inextricably linked. The experience of being poor can lead to depression; worse, depression can rob you of the tools – hope, determination, persistence and the like – you need to escape poverty.A number of rigorous studies have disclosed the many benefits high quality childcare can bring children from low income families. Kids who attend such programs tend to do better in school than similar children who don’t. So the authors of a recent article in Child Development wondered whether high quality childcare might also help to alleviate depression among poor children and buffer them against the stresses of their home lives.The Carolina Abecedarian Study involved infants born to low-income families between 1972 and 1977. The babies were randomly assigned to attend an full-time early educational child-care program from infancy to age 5 or allocated to a control group which received no special services, only whatever childcare the family was able to provide.To assess the impact of this early experience on later mental health, Andrea E. McLaughlin and her colleagues from the University of North Carolina looked at data regarding the early home environments of 104 study participants and their mental health at age 21.The findings are encouraging. Not only did the young adults who participated in the program in their early years report fewer depressive symptoms than those who did not, but the experience also appeared to offset the effects of negative home lives. There was almost no relationship between stressful home environments and later depression among young people who had experienced the intellectually stimulating and stable child-care program whereas, within the control group, the more negative the early home environment, the more likely young people were to report feeling depressed.These findings suggest that, short of eradicating poverty, there are effective programs to prevent depression – and its insidious and far-reaching effects – on poor children. Moreover these programs already exist and they improve the prospects of low-income children in other ways as well.

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