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October 1987

The Clinical Picture of Major Depression in Children and Adolescents

Author Affiliations

From the Department of Psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh, Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic (Drs Ryan, Puig-Antich, and Iyengar and Mss Nelson and Twomey); and the New York State Psychiatric Institute, New York (Drs Ambrosini, Rabinovich, and Robinson).

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1987;44(10):854-861. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1987.01800220016003

• Symptom frequency and severity were compared in two sequential clinically referred samples of 95 children and 92 adolescents, aged 6 to 18 years, all medically healthy, assessed with the Schedule for Affective Disorders and Schizophrenia for School Age Children, Present Episode, who met unmodified Research Diagnostic Criteria for major depressive disorder (MDD). There were no significant differences between the two groups in the majority of depressive symptoms. However, prepubertal children had greater depressed appearance, somatic complaints, psychomotor agitation, separation anxiety, phobias, and hallucinations, whereas adolescents had greater anhedonia, hopelessness, hypersomnia, weight change, use of alcohol and illicit drugs, and lethality of suicide attempt, but not severity of suicidal ideation or intent. Adolescents with a duration of the depressive episode of two years or greater had significantly higher rates of suicidal ideation and intent, lethality, and number of suicide attempts than youngsters with depressive episodes of shorter duration. A principal components factor analysis of psychiatric symptoms was carried out in all 296 youngsters evaluated during the same period who met DSM-III criteria for any Axis I diagnosis. The majority had an affective disorder. Factors were quite similar for both adolescents and children and included an "endogenous" and an "anxious" factor, as in many studies of adult depression. In addition, three other factors were found: negative cognitions, appetite and weight changes, and a conduct factor. Suicidal ideation was a component of both the negative cognitions factor and the conduct factor. It is concluded that the similarities across school age in the phenomenology of MDD far outweigh the few differences and that, therefore, developmental changes across this age range, once assessment variance in this age group is controlled for, have only mild to moderate effects on the expression of a limited number of affective symptoms in youngsters with MDD.

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