It is important to be aware of the problems of domestic violence and depression in the Puerto Rican population. Depression in teenagers has been associated with conflictive and dysfunctional families (Arzola-Colon, Gonzalez-Villanova, and Rosello, 2000). Fendrich, Warner, and Weissman (1990) pointed out that children from dysfunctional families are at greater risk of developing psychopathological disorders than children from stable families.
Likewise, it has been found that when stressors in the family increase, the functioning of the children and teenagers deteriorates (Forehand, Wierson, McCombs, Armistead, Kempton, & Neighbors, as cited in Saez and Rosello, 2001).
Affective disorders in children and teenagers represent a serious mental health problem. Many researchers believe that mood disorders in children and teenagers present a low prevalence within the group of psychiatric illnesses (Rosello, 1993). Some of the reasons for this might be the following: children do not always express their feelings, the symptoms of mood disorders are different in children and in adults, mood disorders may be accompanied with other psychiatric disorders which might mask symptoms of depression and, lastly, many psychiatrists tend to think that depression and other mood disorders are adult illnesses (Rosello, 1993).
Depression is a disorder that affects people of all ages, including infants, boys, girls, teenagers and mainly adults (Rosello & Martinez, 1997). Furthermore, it is also one of the most frequent reasons for which psychological services are sought in Puerto Rican society (Bernal, Rosello, & Martinez, 1992; Rodriguez & Alsina, 1994).
There are important reasons to study and treat juvenile depression. First, there has been an increase in the incidence of depression and suicide in this population. Second, depression interferes with developmental tasks, thereby causing additional problems. Third, depression, if left untreated, tends to be recurrent. Finally, depression is a condition that causes great suffering to those who go through it and to their families (Rosello & Martinez, 1997).
The family is the institution which most influences human socialization. It is the first school of emotional and cognitive learning for a child and where the child experiences the first models of behavior (Nevarez, as cited in Ortiz, 2001). However, families today may well be either the network of economic and emotional sustenance or the most violent context for its members (Silvia, as cited in Ortiz, 2001).
The Puerto Rican Domestic Violence Prevention and Intervention Act of 1989, also known as Public Law #54, defines domestic violence as "a constant pattern of using physical force or psychological violence, intimidation or persecution against a person by that person's partner, ex-partner, the person with whom he or she lives or has lived, with whom he or she has or has had a consensual relationship or a person with whom he or she has had a child, to cause him or her bodily harm, or to harm his or her property or someone else in order to cause him or her severe emotional damage." This act also states, in its Statement of Purpose, that domestic violence is considered an antisocial behavior that affects the entire family, especially the children. Public Law #54 (1989) maintains that children who come from homes where domestic violence takes place, carry with them the traces of violent patterns for their entire lives.
Because depression is such a severe mental health condition associated with dysfunctional families, it is important to evaluate the relationship between the development of symptoms associated with depression and living in homes where domestic violence is observed.
Studies and Statistics on Domestic Violence and Depression in Puerto Rico
The problem of domestic violence has been a serious one in Puerto Rico. According to statistics of the Puerto Rico Police Department (2001), 17,770 complaints were registered in Puerto Rico in 2001. …