Causes of Teen Depression
Certain Types of Personalities
For over two decades, there has been considerable interest in the relationship between depression and a particular mindset (or approach to perceiving external events) known as a pessimistic "attribution bias." A person who has a pessimistic attribution bias readily assumes personal blame for negative events ("All the problems in the family are my fault"), expects that one negative experience is part of a pattern of many other negative events ("Everything I do is wrong"), and believes that a currently-negative situation will endure permanently ("Nothing I do is going to make anything better").
Such pessimistic individuals take a characteristically negative view of positive events (i.e., that they are a result of someone else's effort, that they are isolated events, and that they are unlikely to recur). Individuals with this mindset react more passively, helplessly, and ineffectively to negative events than those without a pessimistic mindset.
There is uncertainty over whether this mindset:
- Comes before depression (and represents a permanent style of thinking as part of an individual's personality)
- Is as a result of depression that is only present when the patient is depressed, and/or
- Is a consequence or "scar" of a previous, perhaps unnoticed, depressive episode.
This pessimistic mode of thinking does not occur in children under the age of five, which could be one of the reasons why depression and suicide are rare in early childhood.
There is evidence that children and adolescents who previously have been depressed may learn, during their depression, to interpret events in this fashion. This may make them prone to react similarly to negative events experienced after recovery. This could be one of the reasons why previously-depressed children and adolescents are at continued risk of depression.
These types of negative thinking may also contribute to the hopelessness that has been repeatedly found to be associated with suicidality. Some examples of negative thinking that may contribute to this sense of hopelessness include negative views about one's own competence, poor self-esteem, and a sense of responsibility for negative events. Also, the fact that these distorted ways of thinking rarely change could be a contributing factor.
There are certain physical factors that may increase the risk of developing teen depression. These physical factors can include:
- Prenatal damage from exposure to alcohol, illegal drugs, and tobacco
- Low birth weight
- Fearlessness and stimulation-seeking behavior
- Learning problems
- Insensitivity to physical pain and punishment.
Stressful Life Events
The relationship between stressful life events and the risk of developing depression is well-established. However, in children and adolescents, this relationship is complicated. This might reflect the impact of individual differences and developmental changes. For example, there is a relationship between stressful life events, such as parental death or divorce, and the onset of major depression in young children. This relationship is especially strong if the stressful life events occur in early childhood and lead to a permanent and negative change in the child's circumstances. Yet findings are mixed as to whether the same relationship is true for depression in mid-childhood or in adolescence.
Some other stressful life events that may increase the risk of teen depression include:
- Severe parental fighting
- Overcrowding in the home
- Physical or psychological abuse