The role of family functioning, family messages and child cognitions in the development and maintenance of depression
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Pre-adolescent females are at an increased risk for the development of depression; therefore, it is important to understand the factors that contribute to the development and maintenance of depression in this population. Previous research indicates that cognitive style, including beliefs about the self, world, and future, is a vulnerability to the development and maintenance to depression. Research has found that cognitive style is malleable until early adolescence, at which time it begins to solidify and become more difficult to alter. Both parent-child relationships and family messages have been found to be associated with depression and previous research indicates that these factors may contribute to the development of a negative cognitive style. The purpose of the current study was to expand previous research by examining the roles of family functioning, perceived family messages and the cognitive triad in the development of depression for early adolescent girls. The study also explored whether family functioning and perceived family messages contributed to the development of girls’ cognitive style (cognitive triad). The study additionally evaluated the proposed model across two ethnic groups (Hispanic, Caucasian) as well as across age (9-10, 11-14) and grade (4-5, 6-8) groups. Participants included early adolescent girls (age 9-14) at risk for the development of, or diagnosed with, a depressive disorder (N = 198). Family functioning, family messages, cognitions, and depressive symptoms were obtained via girls’ self-report on a variety of questionnaires. Results from latent variable structural equation modeling indicated a significant direct effect of family functioning on perceived family messages, of perceived family messages on girls’ cognitive triad, and of girls’ cognitive triad on depressive symptoms. Furthermore, family functioning had a significant indirect effect on girls’ cognitive triad while both family functioning and perceived family messages had a significant indirect effect on girls’ depressive symptoms. No significant differences were found in the model pathways across ethnicities (Hispanic, Caucasian); however, the cohesion factor loading that was an aspect of family functioning was significantly different across groups, with Hispanic girls’ perceptions of family cohesion having a stronger association with family functioning than Caucasian girls. This finding seemingly indicates that cultural components may impact family attributes that are important to family functioning and, thus, role in the development and maintenance of depression in early adolescent girls. No significant differences were found between age or grade groups. Supplemental analyses, in which the model was investigated while controlling for depression, highlighted that the model was not driven by depressive symptoms (i.e. distorted perceptions). Implications, limitations, and areas for further research are discussed.