For decades depression researchers have identified a number of stressful events that are associated with the onset of depression in children and adolescents. Researchers have shown that the experience of specific events, as well as exposure to chronic stress, can lead to the development of depression. But as we know, most people who experience stressful events do not develop clinical depression. Thus, the initial examinations of this phenomenon attempted to identify the genetic and cognitive factors within individuals that made some individuals more likely to develop depression when exposure to a stressful event. This interaction of personal/proximal factors and exposure to life events is called a diathesis-stress model. However, a team at UCLA proposed a complementary explanation in the late 80s and early 90s. Constance Hammen, on of the world’s authorities in adolescent depression, showed that individuals at risk for depression also contribute to the creation of stressful life events. That is, it is not only that life events affect people with specific vulnerabilities, but that some of these life events are at least partially the result of behaviors or actions committed by the at-risk children. This new theory was labeled a “stress-generation” model. It was not surprising then that recent conceptualizations of risk for depression in adolescents have merged these two theories. This integrative approach suggests that at-risk individuals contribute to the generation of stressful conditions but also have deficits in their ability to respond to such conditions, which leads to the development of depression.

In an article to be published in the Journal of Abnormal child Psychology, researchers Amy Kercher and Ronald Rapee from Macquarie University in Australia tested this hypothesis using a large sample of adolescents. The study included 756 seventh grade students who were tasted at the start of the study and six months later. The students completed a depression questionnaire, measures of cognitive vulnerability factors (e.g., making negative attributions in response to negative events, and tendency to ruminate, etc), and a scale of stressful life events.

The Results:

1. As expected, depressive symptoms at time one predicted depressive symptoms at time 2.
2. Dependent stressors (stressors that were dependent upon the behavior of the child, such as being suspended from school) were significant predictors of depression at time 2.
3. The interaction of dependent stressors and cognitive vulnerability factors also significantly predicted time 2 depression.

What does this interaction mean? Specifically, kids who experienced a large number of dependent stressful events AND scored high on cognitive vulnerability scales had the highest depression scores at time 2. Importantly, this combination of dependent events and cognitive vulnerability explained depressive symptoms over and above what was explained by cognitive vulnerability and stressful events alone. Furthermore, cognitive vulnerability at time 1 predicted dependent stressful events at time 2, suggesting that cognitive vulnerability is a risk factor for depression because of its role in preventing adaptive responses to stress, but also because of its role in the generation of stressful conditions.
Kercher, A., & Rapee, R. (2009). A Test of a Cognitive Diathesis—Stress Generation Pathway in Early Adolescent Depression Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology DOI: 10.1007/s10802-009-9315-3ResearchBlogging.org

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3 Responses to Stressful events and adolescent depression: A test of the cognitive diathesis-stress generation theory

  1. Denver Chiropractor | Dr. Jeffrey Parham | Examining Exercise For Treatment Of Adolescent Depression says:

    [...] Stressful events and adolescent depression: A test of the … – For decades depression researchers have identified a number of stressful events that are associated with the onset of depression in children and adolescents. Researchers have shown that the experience of specific events, … [...]

  2. [...] Stressful events and adolescent depression: A test of the … – For decades depression researchers have identified a number of stressful events that are associated with the onset of depression in children and adolescents. Researchers have shown that the experience of specific events, … [...]

  3. [...] Stressful events and adolescent depression: A test of the … – For decades depression researchers have identified a number of stressful events that are associated with the onset of depression in children and adolescents. Researchers have shown that the experience of specific events, … [...]

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