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New paper explores depression trajectories in children

6 February 2024

Children who have a parent with depression are at an increased risk of developing depression themselves. A new research paper from the Wolfson Centre for Young People’s Mental Health has undertaken work to understand the impact parental depression can have on a young person.

Depression trajectories have been studied in the general population but have not been looked at in children of depressed parents.  

Bryony Weavers, who worked on the paper, said: “We followed up with 337 children of depressed parents from childhood to early adulthood to better understand how their risk of depression changes over time."

“We modelled depression from age 9 to age 28 using a statistical approach called latent class growth analysis. We looked at factors that were associated with depression and used descriptive reports of symptoms to get a more in depth understanding of individual’s strengths and difficulties.”

Most young people in the sample (75%) showed some mild difficulties in childhood and adolescence with depressive symptoms beginning in the mid-twenties. Individuals tended to report mild symptoms of depression and some difficulties in daily functioning.

A notable minority of the sample (25%) had depression that started early, on average at about the age of 12 ½ years. This group of young people reported severe and persistent depression with high rates of mental health service use from childhood, a range of additional difficulties including physical and mental health problems and severe difficulties with day-to-day functioning.

Bryony added: “The most important finding is the variability shown in both classes, in terms of the onset and severity of depressive disorder and the descriptive reports of individuals. The study also highlights the long period of vulnerability in high-risk offspring, whereby individuals can develop impairing depressive disorder in adulthood after experiencing few difficulties in childhood and adolescence.

“This study highlights the importance of early interventions for high-risk offspring, especially those with an early onset of depression.” 
Bryony Weavers Research Assistant, Division of Psychological Medicine and Clinical Neurosciences

Bryony concluded: “I’m looking forward to continuing this work with colleagues in the Wolfson Centre as we undertake a new clinical study looking into factors that would prevent early-onset depression in high-risk individuals. Professor Frances Rice, Dr Vicky Powell and Dr Olga Eyre are conducting a clinical trial aiming to investigate this.”

The paper, Characterising depression trajectories in young people at high familial risk of depression, is published in the Journal of Affective Disorders and available to view online at Science Direct.

The Wolfson Centre for Young People’s Mental Health are currently running a clinical trial looking into what factors would prevent early-onset depression in high-risk individuals. The Skills for Adolescent WELLbeing (SWELL) study is looking for parents with lived experience of depression who have a child between the ages of 13-17.  

Find out more about the study and how to take part.

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We are looking for parents with a history of depression, who have a child aged between 13-19 years to take part in the Skills for Adolescent Wellbeing study.