Infants and toddlers too can suffer serious mental disorders, yet they are not likely to receive treatment that could prevent lasting damage, says a new study.

“The pervasive, but mistaken, impression that young children do not develop mental health problems” keeps them away from treatment, say study authors Joy D. Osofsky and Alicia F. Lieberman from the Universities of Louisiana State and California respectively.

They are supposed to be “immune to the effects of early adversity and trauma because they are inherently resilient and ‘grow out of’ behavioural problems and emotional difficulties,” add Osofsky and Lieberman, reports the journal American Psychologist.

Their study, part of the series examining the lack of mental healthcare for children from birth to five years, jointly edited by Ed Tronick, University of Massachusetts, and Osofsky, explores how infants develop mental health problems and recommend improvements, according to a University of California statement.

Even young infants can react to the meaning of others’ intentions and emotions because they have their own rudimentary intentions and motivating emotions, according to an article by Tronick and Marjorie Beeghly, of Wayne State University.

“Infants make meaning about themselves and their relation to the world of people and things,” Tronick and Beeghly stated, and when that “meaning-making” goes wrong, it can lead to development of mental health problems.

“Some infants may come to make meaning of themselves as helpless and hopeless, and they may become apathetic, depressed and withdrawn,” they write.

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