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January 4, 2007

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Psychology Prof Studies Depression Predictors in Teens,
Transmission of Parental Mood Disorders

HOUSTON, Jan. 4, 2007 – Too often, teen depression goes unnoticed or untreated. As a result, this clinical disorder can linger long into adulthood having critical impact on one’s life and family.

Thanks to a $525,000 grant from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), a University of Houston researcher is studying factors that predict depression in teen-agers, as well as the transmission of parental depression to children. The goal is to slow or even stop depression trajectories in adolescents.

Jeremy Pettit, UH assistant professor of psychology, is reviewing data that was collected as part of the Oregon Adolescent Depression Project (OADP), which interviewed and surveyed 1,700 Oregon teens for depression and other mood disorders. Based on the participants’ responses, Pettit is studying possible factors that predict depression as teen-agers progress through early adulthood. Working with Pettit are researchers from the Oregon Research Institute (ORI), which initiated OADP during the 1980s.

“Depression predictors might be emotional, social or based on one’s physical well-being. They can even be related to one’s weight or school performance,” Pettit said. “Predictors can help psychologists recognize teen-agers who need treatment and prevent depression from affecting their lives as adults.”

Since the OADP began, researchers such as ORI scientist Peter Lewinsohn have remained in contact with participants for updated evaluations. In addition, participants’ parents and offspring have been assessed for signs of depression. If data from these assessments suggest that generational transmission of depression exists, Pettit said, treatment can then be designed that would teach different parenting skills or encourage behavior modification.

“I am focusing on identifying mechanisms in which parental depression can be passed on to children and perhaps even grandchildren,” Pettit said. “These include parents’ behavioral problems, mental illness and substance abuse. If treatment is introduced during parenthood’s early stages, then we can possibly stop the cycle of depression.”

Pettit directs UH’s Mood Disorder and Suicide Research Program, which investigates the causes and consequences of depression and suicidal behaviors. The program examines depression from multiple perspectives, mostly emphasizing on the interpersonal behaviors that promote and maintain depression.

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