Practitioner Review: Dysphoria and its regulation in child and adolescent depression

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By emphasizing the importance of emotions, the ‘affect revolution’ in how human behavior is conceptualized has inspired a new generation of studies on dysphoric experience and its regulation in clinical depression, and novel efforts to characterize the precursors of affective disorders in juveniles at familial risk for depression.


We review clinical, behavioral, and functional neuroimaging studies of dysphoric experience and its regulation in depressed children and adolescents, and in juvenile offspring of parents with histories of clinical depression. We discuss the implication of the literature in the context of maternal depression.


Findings confirm the high rate of clinically significant dysphoria in depressed children and adolescents and reveal notable affective lability in daily life as a function of context and activity. Findings also show that depressed youngsters have problems in attenuating dysphoria. Similarly, never-depressed offspring at familial risk for depression display problems in mood repair and impaired mood repair mechanisms. Brain neuroimaging findings indicate that, overall, depressed, and high-risk youngsters differ from never depressed controls in neural functioning (activation, connectivity) both at rest and in response to emotion triggers.


The evaluation of depressed youngsters should include questions about reactivity of dysphoric mood to the changing contexts of daily life and about how they manage (respond to) their own sadness and distress. The resultant information may help the clinician to restructure a young patient's day for the better and identify helpful mood repair responses. Evidence of impaired mood repair mechanisms in youngsters at high-risk for depression suggests the need for early intervention. But interventions must consider that many depressed and high-risk children have depressed mothers, who may be constrained in their ability to help offspring's emotion regulation efforts. To optimize treatment response of offspring, mothers of depressed children should therefore be routinely screened for depression and treated, as warranted.

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