Exploring the etiology of adolescent depression : a longitudinal approach to identifying effects of maternal and paternal depression




Christopher, Caroline Heaton

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Although there is evidence that children of depressed parents are far more likely to suffer from depression than other children (Hammen & Brennan, 2003), the majority of research examining links between parents’ depression and adolescent depression has focused on maternal depression, minimizing or ignoring the potential influence of paternal depression. Thus, the goals of the proposed study were 1) to examine both maternal and paternal depressive symptoms in relation to adolescents’ depressive symptoms over time, 2) to explore possible gender differences in how teens are affected by maternal versus paternal depressive symptoms, and 3) to investigate the role of parent-teen relationship quality. This study used data from the NICHD Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development, which includes measures of each parents’ depressive symptoms, taken when children were in 3rd, 5th, 6th, and 10th grades, and adolescent depressive symptoms measured at grades 5, 6, and 10. Results of path analyses using a cross-lagged panel design revealed that paternal depressive symptoms significantly predicted changes in adolescent depressive symptoms from grade 5 to 6 and 6 to grade 10. Although maternal depressive symptoms were not significantly associated with female adolescents’ depressive symptoms, mothers’ depressive symptoms predicted male adolescents’ depressive symptoms at grade 5. Models revealed a reciprocal influence of female adolescents’ depressive symptoms and paternal depressive symptoms. Furthermore, models of indirect effects suggest that the relationship of maternal depressive symptoms at grade 3 and male teens’ depressive symptoms had an enduring effect on males’ depressive symptoms through grades 6 and 10. This was also found for the association of paternal depressive symptoms and subsequent female teens’ symptoms. Finally, moderation analyses revealed a significant interaction of maternal depressive symptoms and mother-teen relationship quality predicting female teens’ subsequent depressive symptoms such that females who had high-quality relationships with highly depressed mothers were more likely to be depressed themselves, whereas female teens’ depressive symptoms were lowest if they had high quality relationships with mothers who reported low levels of depressive symptoms. The present study highlights the need for systems-based approaches to working with families in which one or more family members experience depressive symptoms.



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