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Childhood Predictors of Adolescent Depression

Posted Feb 23 2009 11:18pm

Here’s an interesting article summing up recent research into the precursors of adolescent depression. For boys, it’s primarily anxiety, but with girls, it’s anxiety as well as antisocial behavior. Surprisingly, early depression did not predict later depression as much as these other warning signs. From the article:

"Anti-social behavior has typically been viewed as a big problem among boys, so it tends to be ignored among girls. Boys with early anti-social behavior typically go on to show more anti-social behavior while girls may turn inward with symptoms, morphing into other mental health problems such as depression eating disorders, anxiety and suicidal behavior during adolescence ," said James Mazza, a UW professor of educational psychology and lead author of the new study. He is currently serving as the past president of the American Association of Suicidology.

"When all the risk factors were analyzed, anti-social behavior and anxiety were the most predictive of later depression. It just may be that they are more prevalent in the early elementary school years than depression." He noted that depression and anxiety share a number of symptoms.

A couple of quick observations. First, it is a general trend that women display high incidences of “inward” mental health difficulties (e.g. depression, anxiety) while men tend to have higher incidences of “outward” mental health diagnoses (i.e. antisocial personality disorder). Interesting how the antisocial stuff continues to develop in boys, but with the girls, the focus shifts once adolescence is reached.

Also, this research again confirms the link between early anxiety and later depression, which I wrote about here. Again, if you are a parent or professional, please do not discount anxiety in kids: anxious kids grow up to be depressed adults, which is not a good thing. Nip these types of problems early, when the symptoms are more manageable, and a whole lot of discomfort and misery can be avoided.

What is also interesting about this study is that it demonstrates that children have some insight into their moods - the authors indicated the kids were able to successfully communicate their difficulties with the help of questionnaires. This is a good thing, insofar as we don’t have to rely solely on the observations of parents, teachers, and others. What this also means is that we need to take kids seriously - obviously, an over-reaction to the occasional stressor is one thing, but if a child is communicating regular discomfort with worry, it is worth it to examine it further.

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