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Distinct trajectories of depression symptoms in early and middle adolescence: Preliminary evidence from longitudinal network analysis.

Adolescent depression is a clinically relevant concern that has major implications for mental and physical health. The trajectory of depressive symptoms among adolescents suggests that there is likely variability throughout this developmental period. The aim of the study was to assess the longitudinal relationship between individual symptoms of depression among early and middle adolescents to provide guidance for future research investigating targeted intervention efforts. Data were extracted from electronic medical records (2015-2017) from a pediatric primary care clinic in an urban setting. Cross-Lagged Panel Network analysis was used to evaluate symptoms of depression measured with the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9) measured twice over a 1-year period among early adolescents (ages 11-13 years; n = 309) and middle adolescents (ages 14-16 years; n = 255). The sample was predominantly Hispanic (90%) and 56% female. The analyses highlighted key differences and similarities between early and middle adolescence, largely focused on the role of suicidal ideation and tightly linked with feelings of failure and appetitive disturbance. In early adolescence suicidal ideation was highly likely to lead to other symptoms. In middle adolescence, however, suicidal ideation no longer had connections to other symptoms and instead the strongest connections were toward suicidal ideation. Interestingly, across both early and middle adolescence feelings of failure and appetitive disturbance were highly likely to lead to suicidal ideation. These exploratory findings highlight several longitudinal associations between early and middle adolescence that provide insight into differences and similarities regarding how symptoms might progress within those developmental periods. Taken together these results can provide direction for future research to evaluate brief, targeted interventions for adolescents.

Authors: Rubin M; Bicki A; Papini S; Smits JAJ; Telch MJ; Gray JS

J Psychiatr Res. 2021 Oct;142:198-203. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychires.2021.07.053. Epub 2021 Aug 4.

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