Preschool Major Depressive Disorder: Preliminary Validation for Developmentally Modified DSM-IV Criteria

Joan L. Luby, Amy K. Heffelfinger, Christine Mrakotsky, Martha J. Hessler, Kathy M. Brown, Tammy Hildebrand

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

149 Scopus citations


Objective: To investigate the validity of developmentally modified DSM-IV criteria for preschool major depressive disorder (MDD). Method: Subjects between the ages of 3.0 and 5.6 years were ascertained from community and clinical sites for a comprehensive assessment that included an age-appropriate psychiatric interview with the parent about the child. Minor developmental modifications to the formal DSM-IV MDD criteria were tested, including translations of symptoms to describe age-appropriate manifestations and setting aside the duration criterion. Preschool children who met modified criteria were compared with psychiatric and normal control groups. Results: Validation for the modified criteria was supported by a specific and stable symptom constellation, social impairment, greater family histories of affective disorders, and higher child-reported symptoms of depression on an age-appropriate puppet interview. Preschool children with M DD displayed "typical" symptoms of depression, as well as vegetative signs. Standard DSM-IV criteria failed to capture 76% of children who met these modified criteria. Conclusions: Evidence that preschool children can manifest typical symptoms of MDD when age-adjusted symptoms states are assessed is provided. Findings also suggest that standard DSM-IV criteria may not be sufficiently sensitive for preschool children, as they failed to capture a substantial proportion of symptomatic children. Minor modifications to DSM-IV criteria are recommended to capture clinically significant preschool MDD.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)928-937
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2002


  • Major depressive disorder
  • Nosology
  • Preschool

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