Public Release: 

Questionnaire identifies depressions in children

Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research

Developmental psychologist Jessica van Mulligen from the University of Nijmegen has compiled a questionnaire to detect depressions in children aged six to eight years. The questionnaire is more attuned to the typical symptoms of young depressive children than a much used American questionnaire.

One and a half to two percent of children aged six to eight years suffer from a depression. In young children depression is expressed differently than in adults. Typical symptoms are sadness, feelings of helplessness, and physical complaints such as stomach-ache. Some symptoms, such as suicidal thoughts, scarcely occur in six to eight-year-olds. Therefore, Jessica van Mulligen compiled a self-reporting questionnaire specifically for this age group: the Depression Questionnaire for Children aged of six to eight years (Dutch acronym, DVK 6/8).

The questionnaire is a tool for psychologists to identify depressive children. The questionnaire is not intended for non-specialists, for example, teachers. Many of the children who score highly in the questionnaire do not actually suffer from a depression. An extensive diagnosis is necessary to establish this and it is particularly difficult to establish a good diagnosis in this age group.

To check whether the questionnaire actually measures depression and not something else, 935 schoolchildren were asked to complete the questionnaire. The researcher read the questions aloud and the child had to tick off an answer. In addition to this the children were also given a translated American questionnaire that can measure depressions as well as a translated American questionnaire that measures anxiety disorders.

Of the 935 children, 80 scored above the norm which necessitates further investigation. Of these 80 children, 20 also scored high for anxiety disorders. In total, 45 children scored high for anxiety disorders. A comparison of the results revealed that the new questionnaire was just as good as the American questionnaire.

In addition to the depression questionnaire and the anxiety questionnaire, the children were also given a personality questionnaire. It was hardly a surprise that the children who had scored highly for depression were, in general, also more neurotic and less extrovert than the other children.

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Further information can be obtained from Dr Jessica van Mulligen (Department of Developmental Psychology, University of Nijmegen), tel. 31-302-971-100, fax 31-302-971-111, e-mail j.m.vanmulligen@zonnet.nl. The defence of the doctoral thesis took place on 15 October 2002. Dr van Mulligen's supervisor was Prof. E.E.J. De Bruyn.

Two items from the DVK 6/8(Depression Questionnaire for Children aged 6 to 8 years)

27 I like being with other children TRUE / FALSE
28 I often feel sad TRUE / FALSE

The research was funded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO).

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