Predictors of Pre-Adolescent Depression and Suicidal Ideation

Article excerpt

Abstract Harter and her associates have developed a model that examines perceived competence and social support as predictors of depression and suicidal ideation in adolescents (Harter, Marold, & Whitesell, 1992). This study applies a subset of concepts from Harter's model to a group of 9 to 12 year old boys and girls and their parents. Using separate standard multiple regression analyses for child, mother, and father informants, support was found for perceived competence and social support as predictors of depression and suicidal ideation during pre-adolescence. Discussion focuses on how depression is manifest at different developmental levels. Further research using school-based assessment and intervention is needed to address those aspects of depression that are continuous and those that are discontinuous over time. In the last few decades, suicide rates have shown an alarming increase among older children and adolescents (McDowell & Stillion, 1994). Pre-adolescents who are suicidal have been found to be likely to repeat suicidal behaviours, especially if they have also suffered from depression (Pfeffer, 1994). Although completed suicide is less frequent among children than it is among adolescents and adults, suicidal ideation in children is more common than is typically recognized (see Marciano & Kazdin, 1994). These findings suggest that one possible way to prevent adolescent suicide is to be alert to the warning signs in younger pre-adolescent children. Although it is now recognized that all age groups share many of the more well-known symptoms of depression and suicidal ideation, some symptoms may differ across the life span. Suicidal acts tend to be especially impulsive and driven by proximal circumstances in children (McDowell & Stillion, 1994). In contrast to adolescents or adults, children may exhibit an irritable rather than a depressed mood, or they may fail to make expected weight gains rather than demonstrate a loss of appetite (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-Fourth Edition (DSM-IV); American Psychiatric Association, 1994). Associated features include low self-worth or self-deprecatory ideation (e.g., Harter & Nowakowski, 1987). Self-worth refers to feelings of self-acceptance, self-liking, and self-respect (Rosenberg, 1986). Judgments about the self's competencies in domains important to the self are believed to contribute to self-worth, as does perceived support from significant others (e.g., Harter, 1986). Generally, children and adolescents who report low self-worth also report feeling sad (e.g., Renouf & Harter, 1990; Rosenberg, 1986). Self-worth, depressed affect, and feelings of hopelessness comprise what Harter, Marold, and Whitesell (1992) have called the "depression composite". The depression composite is viewed as mediating the relation between the child's competence and social supports and his or her suicidal ideation. To assess the constructs involved, Harter developed the Self-Perception Profile for Children (Harter, 1985a), the Social Support Scale for Children and Adolescents (Hatter, 1985b), and the Dimensions of Depression Profile for Children and Adolescents (Harter & Nowakowski, 1987). Using path-analysis with data from an adolescent school-based sample (12 to 15 years of age), Harter et al. (1992) examined several potential models. The model with the best-fit to their data confirmed the mediational role of the depression composite in adolescents (Harter & Marold, 1991; Hatter et al., 1992). The adolescent's perception of competence in self-concept domains that are often important to the developing self formed two clusters: (1) athletics, social acceptance, and physical appearance, and (2) scholastic competence and behavioural conduct. For each adolescent, only those domains judged to be important to the self-concept or important to parents were included in the analyses. The two self-concept cluster s predicted both parent support and peer support. …