Stressful life events in anxious and depressed children

Douglas E. Williamson, Boris Birmaher, Ronald E. Dahl, Neal D. Ryan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations

Abstract

Objective: The aim of this study was to examine the occurrence of stressful life events in anxious and depressed children. Method: Children (6-12 years of age) with an anxiety disorder (n = 20), depression (n = 45), and normal controls (n = 11) were assessed using the Life Events Record. Cortisol was assessed from plasma samples collected every 20 minutes from an indwelling catheter in the one and two hour window around sleep onset. Results: Depressed children had significantly more events and events that were most likely independent of the child's behavior, compared to both the anxious and normal control children. Independent loss events were significantly more prevalent among the depressed children in the preceding year, compared to anxious children, with a trend toward more loss events compared to the normal controls. For both overall events and independent events, depressed females were significantly more likely to be exposed to stressful environments compared to anxious and normal control females. There were no effects of stress on cortisol secretion around sleep onset. Conclusions: The results of this study suggest that stressful life events are significantly more likely to occur in depressed children, particularly females, compared to anxious children, and that these events are predominantly characterized by independent events outside of the child's control. The results also suggest that loss events may be specific for depression in children. Interestingly, stress does not apper to impact the HPA axis in children, which is true for anxious, depressed, and normal control children. The temporal occurrence and severity, as well as the type of stressful life events as they relate to the onset and maintenance of anxiety and depression in children, need to be more fully explored.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)571-580
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology
Volume15
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Aug 2005

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Pharmacology (medical)

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