Psychosocial Functioning in Youths at High Risk to Develop Major Depressive Disorder

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To compare the psychosocial functioning of children and adolescents at high risk of major depressive disorder with youths with acute major depressive disorder and healthy controls.


High-risk (n = 57), major depressive disorder (n = 71), and healthy control (n = 48) youths and their families were recruited from 1987 to 1996 and assessed for psychopathology using standardized instruments. Except for 16 children who had disruptive disorders, the high-risk children were free of psychopathology. A parent completed the Psychosocial Schedule to evaluate the mother–child, father–child, marital relationships, and child–friend relationships and the child’s school performance.


Overall, high-risk and healthy controls had similar psychosocial functioning. Marital relationships were worse in the high-risk children with psychopathology. Youths with major depressive disorder had significantly more psychosocial problems and school difficulties than those at high risk and healthy controls in most domains measured. Controlling for age, pubertal stage, race, sex, family composition, current and lifetime parental depression, and current and lifetime parental nonmood psychopathology yielded similar results.


The family and peer interactions of high-risk youths were similar to the interactions of healthy controls. Although family dysfunctional patterns seem to mainly depend on the child’s depressive symptoms, longitudinal studies are needed to establish causality.

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