TAMPA, FLA. -- Vulnerable adolescents with low self-esteem and a negative view of their lives are at risk for developing hopelessness depression, John Abela, Ph.D., reported at a meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development.
These findings are based on the results of a new study that confirms that hopelessness depression is actually a clinically significant subtype, rather than subsyndromal.
"We hypothesized that children with pessimistic cognitive styles would be more likely to have experienced a past episode of depression," said Dr. Abela of McGill University, Montreal.
The retrospective study involved 190 predominantly high-risk children aged 614 years, whose parents were recruited through newspaper advertisements in the Montreal area. Children whose parents reportedly experienced an episode of depression were considered to be high risk-- specifically, four times more likely to develop depression than children whose parents have not experienced depression.
Of the 141 parents who responded, 72.3% reported a history of depression. A total of 73.7% of the children were considered to be at high risk, while the remaining 26.3% were considered to be at low risk, Dr. Abela said.
Assessment involved a semistructured interview for the parents, and administration of several questionnaires to the children to determine their attributional style, including the Beck Depression Inventory, the Children's Attributional Style Questionnaire, and the Children's Cognitive Assessment Questionnaire, and the Depressive Experiences Questionnaire.
"We found that 30.5% of the children with negative attributional styles did have such a history, compared with only 16.9% of those with more optimistic styles," Dr. Abela said.
Among those with pessimistic inferential styles, 38,2% had a past history of depression, compared with 11.4% of those with optimistic styles. The differences in past history of depression were statistically significant for children exhibiting both pessimistic attributional style and pessimistic inferential style.
At least 12 published studies support the hopelessness depression theory, he said. Previous researchers also have proposed modifications to the theory, suggesting integrative models that include issues of self-esteem, rumination, and personality styles that heavily emphasize the achievement or interpersonal domains.
The study data do not support these models, Dr. Abela said, with the exception of rumination in girls. "In girls with high levels of rumination, a pessimistic inferential style about the self predicted a past history of depressive episodes," he said. More research is needed to determine whether a ruminative style puts early adolescent girls at increased risk for depression.
While the results of this study support the hopelessness theory of depression by linking a negative inferential style to a past episode of depression, it's important to point out that the retrospective design allows for an alternative interpretation--the scar hypothesis, Dr. Abela said. According to this hypothesis, the depressive episode preceded the onset of the negative inferential style. Longitudinal data are needed to rule out this possibility; he said.
During a discussion following the study presentation, Emily Haigh, Ph.D., of the Clark Institute of Psychiatry, Toronto, pointed out the implications for prevention, given that past episodes of depression are predictive of future recurrences. "If children with 'depressogenic' inferential styles are at risk for future depressive episodes, teaching them more optimistic styles of thinking may be one of- the best methods for preventing depression," she said, Early to middle adolescence may be a critical time for identifying hopelessness depression, said Marie-Helene Veronneau, Ph. …