Manifestations of depressive symptoms in adolescents: identifying subtypes and their distinguishing features




Sears, Heather Ann

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The prevalence and nature of depression among adolescents in the general population has received considerable empirical attention in the last decade. Although researchers and clinicians agree that depressive symptoms and depressive disorders are distressing to youths and may have wide ranging effects on their health and development, specific features of depression noted during adolescence (e.g., different manifestations of symptoms) warrant further examination. Using the domain of developmental psychopathology as a conceptual framework, the present study (a) examined sex and age differences in adolescents’ reports of depressive symptoms; (b) explored the extent to which other symptoms were associated with adolescents’ depressive symptoms; and (c) identified subtypes of adolescents who manifested their symptoms of depression in different ways. Data were collected from 379 community-dwelling adolescents (193 females, 186 males) ranging in age from 12 to 19 years. During one class period, youths completed anonymous questionnaires assessing their depressive and comorbid symptoms, personality style, and relationships with their mothers and fathers. Descriptive analyses showed that adolescent females reported higher levels of depressive symptoms than adolescent males and that adolescents’ reports of depressive symptoms tended to show a linear increase across age. Correlational analyses revealed that females who reported depressive symptoms were likely to also report anxiety symptoms whereas males who reported depressive symptoms also reported symptoms of anxiety, substance use, school misconduct, and antisocial behaviour. A K-means cluster analysis of the MAPI personality scales identified three subtypes of adolescents who manifested their depressive symptoms in different ways. These subtypes were labelled Isolated-Discontented, Engaged-Intrusive, and Inhibited- Insecure and were distinguished by their levels of depressive symptoms, patterns of co-occurring symptoms, relationships with their mothers, adolescent-specific concerns (e.g., personal esteem), and behavioural correlates (e.g.. impulse control). The discussion focuses on the clinical implications of these subtypes of depressed adolescents (e.g.. their clinical presentation, need for treatment, and appropriateness of specific interventions) as well as factors that may be contributing to the high level of depressive symptoms reported by the adolescents in this sample.



Depression in adolescence, Depression, Mental