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Stress and Depression in Children

Depressive Episodes May Follow Stressful Events

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Updated October 03, 2011

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

As a parent of a child prone to depression, you may already be aware of the link between stress and depression. In fact, researchers have found that some children are especially prone to depression following negative and stressful life events.

This theory, known as the Diathesis-Stress Model, suggests that while everyone experiences stress, not everyone will experience stress in the same way. Certain children with a biological or psychological vulnerability may react to a negative event with depression.

Common negative life events include the loss of a loved one, the end of an important relationship, or a significant disappointment or perceived failure. For children and teens, a disappointment or perceived failure is often related to an academic event, extra-curricular activities, or friendships.

Some Children Are Prone to Depression

Not all children who experience a negative life event will go on to experience depression, but in the majority of cases, a child who becomes depressed will have experienced a prior negative life event. In other words, the negative event may act as a risk factor for depression in some children who are prone to depression.

Most children who experience a significant negative life event, like the loss of a loved one, perceived failure, or serious accident, will likely experience some negative emotions. However, most children will begin to experience relief within a few weeks within following the event. On the other hand, a child experiencing a depressive episode will have symptoms beyond just a few weeks.

Practical Advice For Parents

Parents may not be able to keep their child from experiencing a negative event, but you can be aware of your child's vulnerability to depression and take measures to support her through a difficult time.

If you know that your child is prone to depression, start her back in therapy or make an appointment to see her pediatrician at the first sign of stress or following a negative event.

While early treatment does not eliminate the possibility of a depressive episode, it can potentially shorten its duration and prevent long-lasting consequences.

Sources:

Avshalom Caspi, Karen Sugden, Terrie E. Moffitt, Alan Taylor, Ian W. Craig, HonaLee Harrington, Joseph McClay, Jonathan Mill, Judy Martin, Anthony Braithwaite, Richie Poulton. "Influence of Life Stress on Depression: Moderation by a Polymorphism in the 5-HTT Gene." Science. 18 Jul 2003 301:386-389.

Jonathon D. Brown. The Self. New York: McGraw-Hill; 1998

Ulrich Orth, Richard W. Robins, Brent W. Roberts. Low Self-Esteem Prospectively Predicts Depression in Adolescence and Young Adulthood. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 2008; 95(3). 695-708.

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