The Role of Parents in Adolescent Depression (page 2)
Early adolescence is a stage of transition from childhood into the increasingly complex time of adolescence wherein significant developmental changes are occurring. The newly developed capacities for abstract reasoning allow adolescents to see beneath the surface of things and envision hidden threats to their welfare. Even in response to the same events, adolescents report more negative moods than do preadolescents or adults. The self-reflective capacity for picking up on real or imagined intimidation comes at a time when a number of other changes in their lives potentially increase the stress level for adolescents (Petersen, Leffert, Graham, Alwin, & Ding, 1997). Although studies have documented increases in depressed affect during adolescence, the findings of Heath and Camarena (2002) demonstrate that (a) most adolescents do not show increases in depressed mood during early adolescence and that (b) depressed mood is typically followed by a decrease in depression symptoms. Although the typical adolescent does not experience depression, a smaller proportion have persistent symptoms of depression and are more at risk for problematic behaviors than other adolescents. Researchers studying adolescent depressed affect have shown that the experience of depressed mood is related to other serious consequences for adolescents, such as emotional and disruptive behavior, truancy, drug abuse, pregnancy, suicide attempts (DiFilippo & Overholser, 2000; Heath & Camarena, 2002), and eating disorders (Johnson, Cohen, & Kotler, 2002).
Research findings showing that adolescent depressed affect is not a typical experience, and that it is most often short lived, suggest that the adolescent's social environment plays a role in the occurrence or nonoccurrence of depression symptoms. Adolescents are less likely to experience depression when they have secure attachments to their parents (Liu, 2006), when parents themselves are not depressed (Sarigiani, Heath, & Camarena, 2003), and when they are not going through a transition related to their parents' divorce or remarriage. Even though all of these factors are related to adolescent depression, dealing with a family in transition seems to be particularly difficult for adolescents. Barrett and Turner (2005) found lower levels of depressive symptoms among adolescents from mother-father families compared to all other family forms. The link between adolescent depression and family transitions was also reported by Brown (2006), who found that while adolescents are undergoing a family transition, they typically report lower well-being in comparison to adolescents in stable, two-biological-parent families.
What This Means for Professionals
Because adolescents who are securely attached to parents are less likely to experience depression, behaviors that promote adolescent attachment should be given high priority. Studies of attachment have demonstrated that responsiveness to feelings is the best predictor of attachment. Thus, it is helpful when parents respond to their adolescents' cares and concerns. If parents are experiencing depression themselves, they might need to seek assistance to reduce their own levels of depression because parental depression tends to prevent parents from being sufficiently responsive to their adolescents. Also, because the research shows that adolescents are at greater risk for experiencing depression during the marital disruptions of their parents (Cuffe, McKeown, & Addy, 2005), steps might be taken to support adolescents whose parents are divorcing. For example, efforts might be made to strengthen the adolescent's coping skills. Finally, parents need to be aware of signs of adolescent depression that might suggest the need for professional intervention (Dori & Overholser, 1999).
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