*The following is excerpted from an online article posted on EurekAlert!
A new study in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (JAACAP), published by Elsevier, confirms that depression in childhood or adolescence is associated with higher levels of adult anxiety and substance use disorders, worse health and social functioning, less financial and educational achievement, and increased criminality.
The findings are based on the Great Smoky Mountains Study, an ongoing longitudinal community-based project tracking the health of 1,420 participants from the rural US Southeast that has been ongoing since 1993.
Lead author William Copeland, Ph.D., and professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Vermont, VA, USA said: “One in twelve children struggle with depression at some point between the ages 9 and 16, with girls more likely to be affected than boys. This is a common childhood challenge, that, unfortunately, often goes unnoticed by the adults in children’s lives, including parents, teachers, and pediatricians.”
Children in the study were assessed for depression symptoms through interviews with the children and one of their parents up to eight times between the ages 9 to 16. These same participants were then followed up to four times in young adulthood, at ages 19, 21, 25, and 30 to evaluate their mental health and their real-world functioning in terms of health, wealth, crime, and social outcomes.
A diagnosis of depression in childhood was associated with a broad range of poorer well-being indicators in adulthood. These links between early depression and poor adult outcomes persisted after accounting for the participants’ early exposure to adversities like low socioeconomic status, family problems, abuse, and bullying.
The links were strongest for children who chronically displayed high levels of depressive symptoms across childhood rather than those that happened to report symptoms at a single timepoint. This finding is consistent with the idea that persistent depressed mood, in particular, is associated with the worst long-term adult outcomes.
Co-author Iman Alaie, MSc, and a Ph.D. student in the Department of Neuroscience at Uppsala University, Sweden said: “The participants who became depressed as adolescents actually fared worse in the long term than those who had their first bout of depression already in childhood. From a developmental perspective, this was quite an unexpected finding given the current recognition that earlier onset of the disorder may portend poorer outcomes.”