Family functioning, cognitive vulnerability, and depression in pre- and early adolescent girls

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Gray, Jane Simpson

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Previous research indicates that the family environments of depressed children are characterized by parent psychopathology, poor family relationships, little communication between family members, and little social recreational activity.
Previous research has also found that depressed children and adolescents report more stress and are more pessimistic in their interpretations of life events. Research has found mixed results, however, for the interaction between stress and cognition proposed by cognitive diathesis-stress theories such as the hopelessness theory of depression.
The purpose of the current study was to build upon previous literature on family and cognitive correlates of depression in youth while elucidating more specific cognitive interpersonal pathways to depression around the transition from childhood to adolescence in girls. Negative family environment was conceptualized in the current v study as a chronic stressor for pre- and early adolescent girls. Participants were 131 girls aged 8 to 14, and their mothers. Participants completed self report measures of family environment and cognitive style about the self, causes, and consequences of negative events. Their mothers completed a self report measure of psychopathology.
Participants also completed a diagnostic interview. Contrary to what was expected, mothers’ reports of depression and other forms of psychopathology did not predict the level of depression in their daughters. Results did indicate, however, that participants’ reports of family environment, including the quality of family relationships and amount of social recreational activity, predicted their level of depression. Participants’ reports of inferential styles about causes of stressful events and the self in relation to stressful events also predicted their level of depression. Finally, cognitive styles about causes and the self moderated the relationship between family environment and depression for middle school aged girls but not elementary school aged girls; however, the interaction operated differently than expected. For middle school girls with positive cognitive styles about the self and causes, the relationship between family environment and depression was stronger than for middle school girls with negative cognitive styles about the self and causes. Implications of the results, limitations, and recommendations for future research are provided.