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Piechaczek, Charlotte Elisabeth; Pehl, Verena; Feldmann, Lisa; Haberstroh, Stefan; Allgaier, Antje-Kathrin; Freisleder, Franz Joseph; Schulte-Körne, Gerd and Greimel, Ellen (2020): Psychosocial stressors and protective factors for major depression in youth: evidence from a case-control study. In: Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health 14:6 [PDF, 742kB]


Background: Severe adverse life events, such as traumatic experiences, are well-known stressors implicated in (youth) major depression (MD). However, to date, far less is known about the role of more common psychosocial stressors in the context of MD, which are part of everyday life during youth. In addition, it is not well-understood whether and how distinct stressors interact with protective factors in youths diagnosed with MD. Thus, the present study aimed at examining several specific psychosocial stressors implicated in a first-episode juvenile MD and addressed the question whether protective factors might moderate the relationship between stressors and a diagnosis of MD.

Methods: One-hundred male and female youths with MD and 101 typically developing (TD) controls (10-18 years) were included. A large number of qualitatively different psychosocial stressors occurring in various areas of life were assessed via self-report. Moreover, we also investigated sociodemographic and pre- and postnatal stressors, as well as the presence of familial affective disorders via parental-report. Social support and a positive family climate were conceptualized as protective factors and were assessed via self-report.

Results: Results showed that the proportion of youths experiencing specific psychosocial stressors was higher in the MD than in the TD group. In particular, the proportion of youths indicating changes at home or at school, experiences of violence, delinquent behavior, as well as the proportion of youths who were exposed to sociodemographic stressors was higher in the MD than in the TD group. Moreover, the percentage of youths with a family history of an affective disorder, or whose mothers experienced psychological burdens during/after pregnancy was elevated in the MD group. Youths with MD experienced less social support and a less positive family climate than their TD peers. These factors, however, did not buffer the influence of specific stressors on MD.

Conclusion: We could show that next to more severe adverse life events, more common psychosocial stressors are linked to youth MD. Importantly, by identifying distinct stressors in youth MD, our results can increase treatment and prevention efforts aiming to improve the outcomes in youths affected by MD or in at-risk individuals.

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