Children at Risk for Depression

Children playing musical instruments at home

James Hudziak, and other researchers, presented information suggesting a strategy for improving brain health, and reducing anxiety and depression in children at risk for these conditions at the 2015 meeting of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

We have previously mentioned in this blog another excellent resource for information on bipolar, Bipolar Network News, and this information is summarized from several blog posts on that website.

At that meeting, researcher James Hudziak suggested that practicing music, mindfulness, and exercise should be encouraged in all school children to increase brain health, and that more intensive efforts are necessary for children in families that are at risk for mood and behavioral difficulties or in children who show some dysfunction in these areas.

Hudziak has implemented a statewide program in Vermont that encourages families to engage in these healthy practices. For more information about the programs Hudziak implemented in Vermont, use the internet to search for the Vermont Family Based Approach, see his book Developmental Psychopathology and Wellness: Genetic and Environmental Influences, or call the University of Vermont Medical Center at (802)847-0000 or (800)358-1144.

Hudziak  analyzed brain scans of 232 children ages 6 to 18 and they report that.. “practicing an instrument such as the piano or violin increased working memory, gray matter volume in the brain, and the ability to screen out irrelevant noise. Practicing mindfulness increased white matter volume and reduced anxiety and depression. Exercise also increased brain volume and neuropsychological abilities.”


At the 2015 meeting of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, researcher Benjamin I. Goldstein reported that 20 minutes of vigorous exercise on a bike improved cognition and decreased hyperactivity in the medial prefrontal cortex in adolescents with and without bipolar disorder.

At the same meeting, researcher Danella M. Hafeman reported that offspring of parents with bipolar disorder who exercised more had lower levels of anxiety.

Editor’s Note: Recognizing and responding to mood symptoms is key to the prevention and treatment of bipolar disorder in children and adolescents at high risk for the illness. For these young people, exercise, a nutritious diet, good sleep habits, and family psychoeducation about bipolar disorder symptoms may be a good place to start. Joining our Child Network may also be helpful.

For More Information

Children at Risk for Bipolar

Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy for Bipolar

Music and Mood

Aerobic Exercise Stimulates Neuron Growth


Music and Mood

musicPeople naturally turn to music to change or improve their moods. There are surprisingly few studies on this. But those studies that do exist confirm what we already know, music can definitely affect our mood.

Enough of the science, if we know music affects mood, how can we use that knowledge to “moodsurf” better?

One thing that we have discovered over the years is that if you want to help someone change or improve their mood it is best to start pretty close to how they are feeling. If you try talking “super-cheerfully” to someone who is depressed you will see what we mean.

A neat illustration of how to use this effect to help people change their mood is contained on the CD (MP3 collection) by Amy Saltzman, MD entitled Still Quiet Place: Mindfulness for Young Children. (OK hang with me a sec, this is not just useful for kids). It is called “wilds” and listen to how it catches the hyperactive energy of a child and gradually slows it down.

So, the typical prescription for the “blues,” bright, cheerful music (Mozart, Vivaldi, bluegrass, polka, Klezmer, Salsa, reggae), may seem fake or off putting. Try instead music that resonates with it the feeling and finds in the blues the beauty and poignancy of sadness. As one melancholic music lover puts it: “When I hear sad music composed by a man who suffered, as did Chopin, Beethoven and Tchaikovsky, I feel that I am ‘seconded,’ and in feeling the beauty of that music I forget I am not well…” (5, p. 254)

For great music to “second” your sadness, try Faure (Pelleas et Mellisande), Ravel (Pavane for a Dead Princess), Rachmaninoff (Vocalise or his Symphony No. 2: Adagio), Dvorak (New World Symphony: Largo), Chopin, Barber (Adagio for Strings), or your favorite sad ballads or blues songs.

Bring your emotional turmoil in for a more rugged workout to the great romantic composers: Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky ( Sixth Symphony ), Mahler.

If you’re more adventurous, more modern, dissonant music can second your feelings of confusion, angst, alienation, or despair.

Music that brims with faith, hope, love, courage, or strength can be inspiring and empowering. Beethoven’s exuberant Ode to Joy chorus ( Ninth Symphony ) is a classic example. Other standouts include the music of Bach, Handel (Messiah), Wagner, Dvorak (New World Symphony), Vaughan Williams (Lark Ascending), and much folk, “world beat,” and pop/rock music.

Music can, of course, be great for relaxation or reveries. Try Baroque slow movements (Pachelbel’s Canon in D, Bach’s Air on the G String, Faure (Pavane), Debussy (Prelude a l’apres midi d’un Faune, Clair de Lune), Satie (Gymnopedies), Delius, “cool” jazz, and New Age music.

Finally, let’s not overlook music as a stimulant. Try Mozart, Prokofiev, march music, Zydeco, Dixieland, Klezmer, bluegrass, Gypsy music, Salsa, Indian and Near Eastern music, rock, and pop.

Excerpted from chapter 30 of Dealing with Depression Naturally , copyright (c) 1995 by Syd Baumel, published by Keats Publishing Inc., New Canaan, Conn.