Negative life events, family functioning, cognitive vulnerability, and depression in pre- and early adolescent girls



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Previous research demonstrates a marked increase in the occurrence of depression during adolescence, particularly for females. Research has found that this phenomenon is associated with the development of beliefs about the self, world, and future (known as the cognitive triad), which constitutes a potential cognitive vulnerability to depression. Research has also demonstrated that family characteristics, such as cohesion, communication, conflict, social/recreational activity, negative life events, and maternal depression are all related to depression and the development of a negative cognitive style. The purpose of the current study was to build upon previous literature on negative life events, family and cognitive correlates of depression in youth, and analyze specific cognitive-interpersonal pathways to depression for girls transitioning from childhood to adolescence. 194 girls ranging in age from 8 to 14 participated in the study, along with their mothers. Participants completed self-report measures of family environment, beliefs about the self, world, and future, and negative life events. Mothers completed a self-report measure of psychopathology. Participants also completed a diagnostic interview, which served as the primary measure of depressive symptoms. As found in similar studies and consistent with Beck’s theory of depression, daughter’s reports of cognitive triad predicted the severity of her depressive symptom severity. Moreover, the cognitive triad was found to be the mediating variable in the model; family variables affected daughter’s beliefs, which then affected depressive symptom severity. Specifically, girls who endorsed higher family conflict and lower social/recreational activity reported a more negative cognitive triad and subsequently higher levels of depression. Additionally, negative life events significantly affected cognitive triad and indirectly affected depressive symptoms via cognitive triad. Also, the interaction of negative life events and cognitive triad significantly affected depression. Further results indicated that the self subscale of the cognitive triad is a particularly important factor in this model of depression. Contrary to what was expected, mother’s reports of depressive symptoms did not predict daughter’s cognitive triad or depressive symptoms. Implications of these results, limitations, and recommendations for future research are provided.