Nature of life events and difficulties in depressed adolescents

Douglas E. Williamson, Boris Birmaher, Ellen Frank, Barbara P. Anderson, Mary K. Matty, David J. Kupfer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

66 Scopus citations


Objective: To examine the significance of acute life events and ongoing difficulties in adolescents with a recent major depressive disorder. Method: Adolescents (aged 13-18 years) with a recent episode of major depressive disorder based on DSM-III-R (n = 26) and normal controls free of any Axis I lifetime psychiatric disorder (n = 15) were assessed using the investigator- based Life Events and Difficulties Schedule (LEDS). Results: Traditionally defined severe events were more likely to occur in the year prior to onset among depressed adolescents (46%) than in a comparable period among normal controls (20%), but these differences did not reach statistical significance. Expanding the definition of severe events to include those events focused on others important to the adolescent resulted in a significantly higher percentage of depressed adolescents having one or more refined 'severe' events in the year prior to onset (62%) compared with normal controls (27%) (p ≤ .02). It is interesting that one half of the depressed adolescents had two or more refined severe events occur during the year prior to onset compared with none of the normal controls (p ≤ .01). Further analyses showed that depressed adolescents were significantly more likely to have a major difficulty precede the onset of their depression (27%) compared with normal controls (0%) (p ≤ .04). Conclusions: The results suggest that depressed adolescents are exposed to high levels of stress prior to becoming depressed. Future investigations might benefit from using the LEDS with adolescents to assess acute and ongoing stressors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1049-1057
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1998


  • Adolescence
  • Life events
  • Major depressive disorder

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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