Dr. Nancy Galambos, from the U of A's Department of Psychology, conducted a rare long-term study, national study that examined more than 1300 teenagers between 12 and 19 years over a four-year period. The research team, also made up of the U of A's Erin Barker and Bonnie Leadbeater, from the University of Victoria, investigated the differences between male and female teens in risk factors for depressive symptoms and major depressive episodes (MDEs). The research was recently published in the International Journal of Behavioral Development.
The most surprising finding of the study was the high number--25 percent--of older female teens who experienced major depression. "Across the four-year period the numbers for females were typically twice as high as for males," said Galambos. "This is a substantial number of young Canadian women who should be identified as depressed and treated."
The study also found that decreases in social support and increases in smoking were both linked to increases in depressive symptoms. "A link between smoking and depression has hardly ever been studied," said Galambos. "It might be that some people are smoking to self-medicate because they already feel bad. It's an interesting two-way relationship between smokers and depression that needs further investigation."
Depression in adolescence has been linked to problems with work, stressful life events, early pregnancy, smoking and substance abuse. These adolescents are also at risk for anxiety, eating and conduct disorders, as well as academic failure and problems in interpersonal relationships. Because the consequences for adolescents can be severe, understanding the development of depression in males and females during adolescence is critical to its treatment, said Galambos.