social influences

In a recent study published in JAMA Psychiatry, researchers study the development of Major Depressive Disorder in adolescents with parents who are depressed. The study determines that there are genetic, as well as social influences, which dictate the onset of this psychiatric disorder in teens.


Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) is a mental illness that is the leading cause of disability in the world. The development of MDD in adolescence can result in long-term detriments to mental health, which can have ramifications in other areas of life, such as school. Adolescents who are most at risk are those with a parent who suffers from depression. In addition to this familial/inherited risk factor, social influences resulting in depression, and/or anxiety can also precede the development of MDD. In order to prevent the onset of this illness, current efforts tend to focus on preventing low moods in individuals at risk of developing MDD. This method, however, has its limitations, as MDD can emerge through a variety of pathways. A new study examines various inherited and social influences in order to determine these pathways, creating a more complete picture of MDD etiology, and the potential points of intervention for adolescents who are at elevated risk for developing MDD.

Researchers conducted a 4-year longitudinal study (2007-2011), which followed 337 children of parents who had experienced at least two episodes of MDD. Data was collected in the form of questionnaires and interviews. Risk factors were separated into two categories: 1) Clinical precursors, such as low mood, fear/anxiety, irritability and disruptive behaviour, and degree of familial risk, and 2) Social adversity, encompassing various stressful life events.

The results of the study indicate support for 6 pathways for the development of MDD in adolescents. 2 of these pathways include past medical histories of irritability, and fear/anxiety. Both of these were independent of each other, and other risk factors. 4 of the remaining pathways included familial predispositions (including severity of parental MDD, and additional family history of MDD), and social risk factors (economic disadvantage and stressful events).

This study highlights the interconnected nature of various influences in the development of MDD in adolescents. Current preventative methods address low mood in individuals, however, the evidence here suggests a more holistic approach is required. The researchers suggest that concurrent treatment of parental depression, as well as addressing adolescent anxiety and irritability, while remaining cognizant of social influences, will be critical in prevention and treatment of MDD in teens.




Written By: Nicole Pinto, HBSc

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