Adolescent Depressed Mood and Parental Unhappiness

Article excerpt

It has been found that depression negatively affects adolescent development and functioning (McConville & Bruce, 1985; Petersen et al., 1992). The adolescent's own depression, however, is not the only variable that affects functioning. Parental unhappiness may also contribute to difficulties experienced during the teen years (Petersen et al., 1992).

Adolescent depression has been linked to serious psychological problems including suicide (Brown, Overholser, Spirito, & Fritz, 1991; Kandel, Raveis, & Davies, 1991; Rosenstock, 1985; Withers & Kaplan, 1987), eating disorders (Petersen et al., 1992), and substance abuse (Kandel et al., 1991). Adolescent depression has also been related to less specific problems including poor self-esteem (Petersen et al., 1992) and peer and family relationships. For example, an inverse relationship has been noted between depression and peer popularity in adolescents (Jacobsen, Lahey, & Strauss, 1983). Further, depressed adolescents feel less closeness and contact with friends, and more feelings of peer rejection have been related to adolescent depression (Petersen et al., 1992). Family correlates of depression have included decreased family support (Feldman, Rubenstein, & Rubin, 1988) and perceived rejection by parents (Cytryn & McKnew, 1980; Harris & Howard, 1987). The most often addressed, and perhaps strongest, family correlate of depression in adolescents is parental depression, although Downey and Coyne (1990) explicitly warn against "mother bashing" and relate a number of variables that could account for the association between parental and adolescent depression.

The present study was conducted for the following reasons. In the above studies, the relationship between depression and only one, or a few, other variables was investigated. To obtain a more integrated picture of adolescent depression, we wished to examine multiple variables in the same study. In addition, most of the published studies have assessed the effects of parental depression as perceived by the adolescent. Although parental depression is noted to affect adolescent functioning (Beardslee, Bemporad, Keller, & Klerman, 1983; Weissman, Prusoff, Gannon, Merikangas, Leckman, & Kidd, 1984), the adolescent's perspective on parents' unhappiness may also have an important influence. In the current study, adolescents, rather than the parents themselves, were asked to rate parental unhappiness. In addition, they were asked for their perceptions of other variables noted to affect adolescents including family relationships (intimacy, social support, and responsibilities), intimacy with friends, psychological variables (self-esteem, depression) and problem behaviors (risk-taking and substance use).


Several scales were administered to 455 adolescents ranging in age from 14 to 19 years (the entire freshman to senior class in a suburban school) (M age = 16.6). Their ethnicity distribution was 33% white non-Hispanic, 48% Hispanic, 12% black, and 5% Asian, with the remaining 2% having a variety of ethnic backgrounds. Their socioeconomic status distribution was 17% lower, 50% middle, and 33% upper class based on the Hollingshead Index.


The scales were administered anonymously to all students who were present during their English class near the end of the school year. The students' English teacher monitored their behavior during the administration. Students were informed that the purpose of the study was to learn more about their interpersonal relationships and how they felt about different areas affecting their lives. The scales required 45 minutes to complete, and answers were checked on computer scan sheets. Test-retest reliability was assessed at a one-month interval on the scales designed for this study.


The individual scales tapped the following:

Background and Lifestyle Questionnaire (Field & Yando, 1991). …