Anti-Social Behavior in Girls Predicts Adolescent Depression Seven Years Later
“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.
Mazza said that early adolescence is when the first episode of depression typically occurs and that’s when it has been noted that gender difference occur, with more girls than boys experiencing depressive symptoms. Children can be assessed at 6 and 7 years of age, but depression is not often recognized or diagnosed until the middle school years.
Children in this study were drawn from a larger project looking at the risks for health and behavior problems. That project was conducted by the university’s Social Development Research Group, with which Mazza is affiliated. More than 800 children participated in the depression study. Eighty-one percent were white and 54 percent were boys.
Data were collected annually from the children and their parents and teachers when the children were in the first or second grade. The children filled out surveys that measured their levels of depression, anxiety and anti-social behavior, as well as other measures that were not investigated in this study. Parents and teachers filled out questionnaires about the children’s anti-social behavior and social competency, which measured such things as the youngsters’ abilities to understand other people’s feeling, to make new friends and resolve conflicts.
Teachers also rated each child’s academic performance. In addition, parents filled out questionnaires concerning family and marital conflict, family stress and parental depression.
“One finding from this study that is a mind-grabber is that young children can identify themselves as being anxious and depressed,” said Mazza. “When they had scores that were elevated we were a bit surprised because we thought they would say, ‘My life is fun and I play a lot.’ But they are able to understand and report feeling depressed or anxious, and tell us so. This suggests giving health surveys in early elementary school is a good idea and we should talk to kids in the first and second grades because they can give us valuable information.”The research was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and published in the online edition of The Journal of Early Adolescence. Co-authors of the study are Robert Abbott, Charles Fleming, Tracy Harachi, Jisuk Park, Kevin Haggerty and Richard Catalano of the UW’s Social Development Research Group, and Rebecca Cortes, a research scientist in the UW psychology department.