Risk Factors for Depression in Early Adolescence

By MacPhee, Angela R.; Andrews, Jac J. W. | Adolescence, Fall 2006 | Go to article overview

Risk Factors for Depression in Early Adolescence


MacPhee, Angela R., Andrews, Jac J. W., Adolescence


Depression is considered by some to be one of the most serious forms of childhood psychopathology due to the prevalence, chronicity, co-morbidity, and pervasive consequences associated with this disorder (Cicchetti & Toth, 1998). In order to design effective prevention initiatives that aim to "inoculate" children against the negative impact of depressive disorders, an understanding of the salient childhood risk factors becomes a crucial starting point.

Current Knowledge of Risk Factors

A review of the literature published in the recent past reveals that there is currently a large group of risk factors implicated in the development of depression. Specifically, parental depression (Diego, Sanders, & Field, 2001; Hammen, Shih, Altman, & Brennan, 2003), negative life events/life stress (Ge, Lorenz, Conger, Elder, & Simons, 1994; Rudolph et al., 2000), problematic peer relationships (Garland & Fitzgerald, 1998; Rudolph, Hammen, & Burge, 1994), negative parental rearing behavior (Lau & Kwok, 2000; Liu, 2003), low self-esteem (Marcotte, Fortin, Potvin, & Papillon, 2002; Muris, Schmidt, Lambrichs, & Meesters, 2001), negative body-image (Kovacs, Obrosky, & Sherrill, 2003; Siegel, 2002), pubertal status (Ge et al., 2003), low SES (Frigeroni, Pesenti, Molteni, & Battaglia, 2001), conduct problems (Merikangas & Avenevoli, 2002), and attention regulation difficulties (Bird, Gould, & Staghezza, 1993), are among the variables most consistently associated with depression across studies.

Researchers have typically examined a few risk variables (for example, 3 to 4) at a single point in time in their studies of risk factors for depression. Hence, the current body of knowledge is rather fragmented, with no empirical evidence about what the most significant risk factors of depression would be among a large common group of predictors. Furthermore, given the impracticality of designing prevention efforts aimed at a large pool of risk factors, it seems that prevention programs would be best informed by the identification of those risk factors that most strongly predict depression. The inclusion of many different risk factors into one analysis is viewed by many working in this domain to be the next logical step in understanding depression etiology (see Bennett, Bendersky, & Lewis, 2002; Kessler, Avenevoli, & Merikangas, 2001; Muris et al., 2001).

Additionally, researchers have not typically examined the impact of these common risk factors by gender in their studies. The female predominance in depression rates after childhood is considered one of the most robust findings to date in the field of epidemiological research (Wade, Cairney, & Pevalin, 2002). As such, many researchers in the field have identified a need for more studies that investigate gender-specific pathways to depression (Cicchetti & Toth, 1998; Connell & Goodman, 2002; Jacobson & Rowe, 1999).

Although there is considerable ambiguity regarding the impact of risk factors by gender, some patterns can be noted from previous research. For example, some researchers have found that problematic interpersonal relationships are more closely tied to depression in girls than in boys (Hankin & Abrahmson, 2001; Rudolph et al., 2000). In regard to parental rearing behavior, some researchers have found that females demonstrate more depressive symptoms in the face of problematic parental behavior than do males (Ge, Lorenz, Conger, Elder, & Simons, 1994; Liu, 2003). Pubertal status, self-esteem, and body image have also been related to depression in girls more strongly than in boys, although these findings have not been consistent (Adams, Katz, Beauchamp, Cohen, & Zavis, 1993; McCauley Ohannessian, Lerner, Lerner, & von Eye, 1999).

Potential Mediators of Risk

As the knowledge of risk factors for childhood depression grows, so does the need to move into an examination of mediational pathways of risk (Garber & Flynn, 2001).

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