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Girls' Anti-Social Behavior Predictive of Later Depression

Early elementary school interventions could identify those most at risk, study says

FRIDAY, Feb. 27 (HealthDay News) -- Anti-social behavior among young elementary school girls and increased anxiety in either boys or girls that age tend to predict whether they develop depression in adolescence, a new study shows.

However, showing signs of depression in first or second grade did not mean adolescent depression was imminent, said the report published in The Journal of Early Adolescence.

"When all the risk factors were analyzed, anti-social behavior and anxiety were the most predictive of later depression. It just may be that they are more prevalent in the early elementary school years than depression," study lead author James Mazza, a University of Washington professor of educational psychology, said in a news release issued by his school.

His research followed more than 800 predominantly white children for seven years, starting when they were in first or second grade. Children, parents and teachers provided information that measured the students' levels of depression, anxiety, anti-social behavior and social competency. Parents were also asked by family and marital conflict, family stress and parental depression.

"One finding from this study that is a mind-grabber is that young children can identify themselves as being anxious and depressed," Mazza said. "When they had scores that were elevated, we were a bit surprised, because we thought they would say, 'My life is fun, and I play a lot.' Nevertheless, they are able to understand and report feeling depressed or anxious, and tell us so. This suggests giving health surveys in early elementary school is a good idea, and we should talk to kids in the first and second grades because they can give us valuable information."

While doctors may start assessing children as young as six for depression, middle-school age is usually when the condition is first recognized or diagnosed in children. That is the time when the genders split, with more girls showing signs of depression than boys.

"Boys with early anti-social behavior typically go on to show more anti-social behavior, while girls may turn inward with symptoms, morphing into other mental health problems such as depression eating disorders, anxiety and suicidal behavior during adolescence," he said.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more about adolescent depression.

-- Kevin McKeever

SOURCE: University of Washington, news release, Feb. 17, 2009

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