Parental response to depression in adolescents

Parental response to depression in adolescents

What was the aim of this paper?

Adolescence is a peak period for the development of depressive disorders. Parental responses do not ‘cause’ adolescent depression, but unhelpful parent-child communication patterns can intensify negative emotions in youth. Depressive behaviours from youth can elicit negative reactions from parents, and negative parental responses can exacerbate negative mood in their child. In addition to identifying how parents respond to adolescent depressive behaviours, it is also important to examine why parents respond in particular ways. Parent mental health problems (e.g., depression) are one factor that may impact their parenting style, however parents’ attitudes and beliefs about depression are also likely to influence how they respond to their child. Specifically, accurate parental knowledge about the causes, symptoms and treatment of adolescent depression (called depression literacy) and their level of depression stigma (including prejudicial attitudes and discrimination), are likely to influence how they respond to their child's depressive symptoms. This study had two aims: 1) to develop a questionnaire to assess parental reactions, attitudes and understanding of adolescent depressive symptoms (called the PRAUD); and (2) to examine the impact of adolescent and parent depressive symptoms, parental knowledge about adolescent depression (depression literacy), and parental depression stigma on how parents respond to adolescent depression.

How did you do it?

We surveyed 440 parents of adolescents aged 13-17 years (185 parents reported elevated depressive symptoms in their adolescent child) using an anonymous online questionnaire about their understanding, attitudes and responses to adolescent depression.

What did you find?

We found four patterns of parental responses to adolescent depressive symptoms: overprotection, criticism, personal distress and support. Parents of depressed youth and parents who reported experiencing higher depressive symptoms themselves tended to report more negative parental responses to adolescent depression (greater overprotective, critical and distressed responses, and less supportive responses). Similarly, parents with greater stigma towards adolescent depression and parents with poorer understanding of adolescent depression (depression literacy) also reported more negative parental responses.

What does this mean in practice?

There was evidence of more negative parental attitudes and responses among depressed parents and parents of depressed youth. Improving parental depression literacy and reducing depression stigma during treatment of adolescent depression may facilitate parental responsiveness, and in some circumstances, may help buffer against the negative impact of parental depression.

Citation: Johnco, C. & Rapee, R. M. (2018). Depression literacy and stigma influence how parents perceive and respond to adolescent depressive symptoms. Journal of Affective Disorders, 241, 599-607. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2018.08.062

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