Predictors of Depression in Female Adolescents

By Milne, Lisa C.; Lancaster, Sandra | Adolescence, Summer 2001 | Go to article overview
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Predictors of Depression in Female Adolescents


Milne, Lisa C., Lancaster, Sandra, Adolescence


ABSTRACT

Depression during adolescence has been associated with a number of factors, including failure to individuate (Bios, 1968), insecure attachments (Armsden, McCauley, Greenberg, Burke, & Mitchell, 1990), negative parental representations, and object relations that lack self-other differentiation (Blatt, Wein, Chevron, & Quinlan, 1979). The present study examined factors associated with symptoms of depression in 59 nonclinical female adolescents. Specifically, the relationship between a number of theoretically related measures--separation-individuation, interpersonal concerns, self-critical concerns, attachment style, parental representations--and symptoms of depression was investigated. The model developed was able to explain the interrelationships of the variables involved in the psychological process of adolescence, and their demonstrated ability to predict symptoms of depression in normal female adolescents.

Rates of depression in adolescents are comparatively high. The classic Isle of Wight Study (Rutter, Tizard, & Whitmore, 1970) found that 40% of normal adolescents reported some depressive symptoms. A more recent study reported that 20% of adolescents met the diagnostic criteria for major depression (Lewinsohn, Hops, Roberts, Seeley, & Andrews, 1993).

Depression during adolescence has been associated with a number of factors, including a failure in individuation (Blos, 1968), insecure attachments (Armsden, McCauley, Greenberg, Burke, & Mitchell, 1990), negative parental representations, and object relations which lack self-other differentiation (Blatt, Wein, Chevron & Quinlan, 1979). The importance of parental depression and family interaction patterns has been noted in the treatment of adolescent depression (Shiner & Marmostein, 1998). While depression has been conceptualized as a clinical disorder, it has also been described as a normal and necessary affect state (Freud, 1914; Bibring, 1953; Zetzel, 1960), as a reaction to extreme deprivation in infancy (Spitz & Wolf, 1946), as a developmental stage (Winnicott, 1954), as being concerned with restoring past pleasures (Rubenfine, 1968), and as a character style (Blatt, 1966). Some types of depression, such as bipolar mood disorder, are also thought to have a genetic basis (Cohn, 1997). Increasingly, resea rch into depression is moving away from a focus on isolated components and towards developing an understanding of how the components have evolved and are integrated across a number of biological, psychological, and social systems (Cicchetti & Toth, 1998).

Based on a developmental model of depression (Blatt, 1974), Blatt and his colleagues described two types of depressive experiences: those related to maintaining a positive sense of self, and those which are driven by fear of being abandoned by others (e.g., Blatt & Zuroff, 1992). A recent study (Frank, Poorman, Van Egeren, & Field, 1997) found that these two types of depressive experiences, self-critical concerns and interpersonal concerns, were associated with adolescent depression, and further, that both self-critical concerns and interpersonal concerns actually mediated the relationship between difficulties with parents and adolescent depression.

The separation-individuation process is a central feature of adolescent development. Problems in separating from the family and establishing a new identity may result in poorer outcomes for the adolescent (Christenson & Wilson, 1985).

Separation-individuation at any developmental stage is closely related to attachment. The move to a more autonomous state of being, whether in infancy, adolescence, or beyond, occurs in the context of the attachment to a primary caregiver. Adolescents reduce their reliance on the family and turn to others to fulfill their attachment needs, but their capacity to negotiate these changes depends on the quality of their attachment to the primary caregiver.

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