Understanding Depressed Mood in the Context of a Family-Oriented Culture

Article excerpt

Depressed mood has been described as a common experience during adolescence (Steinberg, 1999). For example, studies using community samples in the U.S. found that about 25% to 35% of adolescent boys and 25% to 40% of adolescent girls experienced depressive symptoms in the previous six months (Compas, Ey, & Grant, 1993; Petersen, Compas, Brooks-Gunn, Stemmler, By, & Grant, 1993). The presence of frequent, moderate symptoms of depression in children and adolescents has been found to have a negative impact on school performance and peer relationships (Merikangas & Angst, 1995; Nolen-Hoeksema, Girgus, & Seligman, 1992). Longitudinal studies have further shown a tendency toward stability of depressive symptoms across at least three years of adolescence (Devine, Kempton, & Forehand, 1994; Reinherz, Frost, & Pakiz, 1991), and depressive symptoms during adolescence are associated with depression and other psychological difficulties during adulthood (Compas, Connor, & Hinden, 1998; Devine, Kempton, & Forehand, 1994).

Ethnic group differences in the prevalence of depressed mood among adolescents in the U.S. have been reported in the literature. For example, Roberts and Sobhan (1992), in a national study on the prevalence of depressive symptoms among European-American, African-American, Mexican-American, and other Hispanic youths, found that Mexican-American adolescents had the highest rates of depressive symptoms. Recent studies have further revealed both differences and similarities in the individual and family factors that contribute to depressed mood among adolescents from different cultural and ethnic groups (Greenberger & Chen, 1996; Roberts & Sobhan, 1992).

A scant number of studies have systematically examined the contribution of individual and family factors to depressed mood among Mexican adolescents. The examination of family factors in a culture traditionally characterized as viewing the family as the primary and critical source of personal support (Diaz-Guerrero, 1975) can further our understanding of depressive symptomatology during adolescence. The family has been found to play an extremely influential role in shaping Mexicans' behavior at all developmental stages (Echeverria, 1990). In fact, it has been shown that Mexicans to a great extent define themselves in reference to their relationships with family members, showing a strong desire to obtain acceptance and approval within the family (Diaz-Loving & Draguns, 1999). Evidence for this view of the family as a central source of support is found in an empirical study conducted by Gonzalez-Forteza, Salgado de Snyder, and Andrade Palos (1993). The study showed that the family was the main and preferred sou rce of support for adolescents irrespective of the type of situation or problem they were experiencing.

Mexicans have been found to adhere to traditional family values that place great importance on loyalty to the family, strictness in child-rearing, respect for adults, strong differentiation of gender roles, male! age superiority, and cooperation rather than competition (Rodriguez, Ramirez, & Korman, 1999). For example, in a study of 21 countries, Inglehart (1991) found that 79% of the Mexican sample believed in "unconditional love and respect for parents." Likewise, recent studies indicated that friendship, honesty, loyalty, the family, and parents were most valued by Mexican adolescents (Valdez Medina, Guadarrama Guadarrama, & Gonzalez Escobar, 2000; Vargas Nunez, 2000).

Empirical studies have examined the contribution of individual and family factors to depressive symptomatology among adolescents of various cultural and ethnic backgrounds. For example, a considerable number of cross-ethnic studies within the U.S. have shown a higher prevalence of depressed mood among female adolescents than males in samples of European-Americans, African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, other Hispanics, and Asian-Americans (Compas et al. …


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