Antisocial behavior among young elementary school girls, and increased anxiety in either boys or girls that age, tend to predict whether they develop depression in adolescence, a new study shows.
However, showing signs of depression in first or second grade did not mean adolescent depression was imminent, said the report published in The Journal of Early Adolescence.
University of Washington researchers followed more than 800 predominantly white children for seven years, starting when they were in first or second grade. Children, parents and teachers provided information that measured the students' levels of depression, anxiety, antisocial behavior and social competency. Parents were also asked about family and marital conflict, family stress and parental depression.
"When all the risk factors were analyzed, antisocial behavior and anxiety were the most predictive of later depression. It just may be that they are more prevalent in the early elementary school years than depression," said study lead author James Mazza, PhD, associate professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington.
"One finding from this study that is a mind-grabber is that young children can identify themselves as being anxious and depressed," Dr. Mazza said. "When they had scores that were elevated, we were a bit surprised, because we thought they would say, 'My life is fun, and I play a lot.' Nevertheless, they are able to understand and report feeling depressed or anxious, and tell us so. This suggests giving health surveys in early elementary school is a good idea, and we should talk to kids in the first and second grades because they can give us valuable information."
While doctors may start assessing children as young as six for depression, middle school age is usually when the condition is first recognized or diagnosed in children. That is the time when the genders split, with more girls showing signs of depression than boys.
"Boys with early antisocial behavior typically go on to show more antisocial behavior, while girls may turn inward with symptoms, morphing into other mental health problems such as depression, eating disorders, anxiety and suicidal behavior during adolescence," he said.