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Dialogues Clin Neurosci. 2009;11(1):45-62.

Characteristics, correlates, and outcomes of childhood and adolescent depressive disorders.

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Department of Psychiatry, the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, Texas 75390-9101, USA.


Depressive illness beginning early in life can have serious developmental and functional consequences. Therefore, understanding the disorder during this developmental stage is critical for determining its etiology and course, as well as for developing effective intervention strategies. This paper summarizes current knowledge regarding the etiology, phenomenology, correlates, natural course, and consequences of unipolar depression in children and adolescents. Using adult depression as a framework, the unique aspects of childhood and adolescence are considered in order to better understand depression within a developmental context. The data suggest that the clinical presentation, correlates, and natural course of depression are remarkably similar across the lifespan. There are, however, important developmental differences. Specifically, the familial and psychological context in which depression develops in youngsters is associated with variability in the frequency and nature of depressive symptoms and comorbid conditions among children and adolescents. Maturational differences have also been identified in the neurobiological correlates of depression. These developmental differences may be associated with the observed variability in clinical response to treatment and longitudinal course. Characterization of the developmental differences will be helpful in developing more specific and effective interventions for youngsters, thereby allowing them to reach their full potential as adults.

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