Childhood health status may predict depression later in life


By Kristin Demos

UPPSALA, Sweden (Reuters Health) – Parental evaluation of the overall health of their young child may be helpful in predicting an increased risk for depression in adolescence, according to new research presented here on Thursday at the 10th European Conference on Developmental Psychology.

In a 17-year study, researchers from the University of Helsinki sent out 3,155 questionnaires to parents of healthy children as young as 3 years old. Every third year after, researchers mailed the questionnaires. The final follow-up study included 1,833 responses.

The questionnaires, to be completed by the parents at home, included the question: "How would you describe the general health of your child at the moment?" The answer was given on a 5-point scale ranging from good to bad.

"Depression and depressive tendencies start at an early age," researcher Carla Schubert told Reuters Health. "This question is very difficult for parents. Parents don't want to admit that their child is depressed. The generality of the question may make it easier for parents to identify more general symptoms rather than a specific symptom of depression."

Responses to the question concerning the general health of the child could include both the physical and psychological health of the child, Schubert explained.

Twelve and 17 years after the study began, the researchers assessed the depressive tendencies of the children using a modified version of the Beck Depression Inventory.

The study showed that children with poorer health evaluations experienced higher levels of depressive tendencies during teenage or adult years. Children whose parents rated their health as "average" at the beginning of the study later scored an average of 51.71 on the depression score. Those rated as being in "very good" health scored an average of 45.39, a statistically significant difference.

"You never have the right tools to [completely] determine if someone might become depressed, but with this one question only, you have a cheap tool," Schubert told Reuters Health. "Preventative tools are rare…and are often time consuming and expensive. This is a gift of significant value regarding the later development of the child."

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