Depression in childhood and adolescence

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Objective: To review recent evidence on child and adolescent depression.

Method: Narrative review.

Results: Rates of unipolar depression are low before puberty, but rise from the early teens, especially among girls. Concurrent comorbidity with both disruptive and emotional disorders is common, especially among younger children; across age, youth depression may be preceded by both anxiety and disruptive behaviour disorders, and increase risk for alcohol problems. Adolescent depression is associated with a range of adverse later outcomes including suicidality, problems in social functioning and poor physical and mental health. Across development, a family history of depression and exposure to stressful life events are the most robust risk factors for depression. Familial transmission involves both psychosocial and heritable processes; genetic and environmental influences also combine to influence risk. Neurocognitive and neuroendocrine pathways have been established, but contributors to the adolescent rise in risk, and the female preponderance later in development, remain to be clarified. Depressed youth benefit from psychological therapy or antidepressant medication or their combination; however, treatment effects are moderate.

Conclusions: Despite considerable progress in understanding developmental trajectories to depression, more needs to be done to identify disease mechanisms that may serve as intervention targets early in the life course.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)35-40
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of the Canadian Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry = Journal de l'Académie canadienne de psychiatrie de l'enfant et de l'adolescent
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2013


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