Keep It Simple: Identifying Risk Factors for Depression

Symptoms of depression tend to first appear in young adulthood. Some individuals may have their first episode of major depression (MDD) in their late teens, while others may experience a significant period of depression while in their mid to late 20s. Regardless of when it occurs, MDD can dramatically disrupt a person’s life. Sadness, fatigue, disorganized thinking, and overwhelming feelings of worthlessness can impair an individual’s ability to function and cause damage to relationships, careers, and families. Identifying the risk factors for depression can provide early treatment and hopefully help prevent the negative consequences of future episodes.

Daniel N. Klein of the Department of Psychology at Stony Brook University in New York wanted to extend existing research on depression and look at risk factors in relation to gender and also to determine how specific risk factors’ affect diminished or increased over time. To accomplish this, Klein enlisted 502 participants, ranging in age from 19 to 31, from the Oregon Adolescent Depression Project. He examined a range of factors, including gender, history of anxiety, mood issues, childhood sexual abuse, and family history. He also looked at the history of mood issues and the clinical threshold of the symptoms prior to the onset of MDD.

Klein discovered that simple risk models were able to help identify several factors that greatly influenced the onset of depression. In his sample, 35.5% of the participants had MDD. Some of the contributing factors included family history of mood problems, sexual abuse, and anxiety issues. Additionally, the females were more likely to have MDD than the males. Klein also noticed that individuals with subthreshold symptoms of depression were more likely to experience an episode of MDD than those without. “Collectively, these variables had a medium-to-large effect, suggesting that simple multivariate risk models may be useful in identifying high-risk groups for targeted prevention,” he said. Klein believes that all of these conditions affect depression in unique and independent ways but are, nonetheless, important to identify when working with those at risk for depression.

Klein, D. N., Glenn, C. R., Kosty, D. B., Seeley, J. R., Rohde, P., Lewinsohn, P. M. (2012). Predictors of first lifetime onset of major depressive disorder in young adulthood. Journal of Abnormal Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029567

Related articles:
The Key to Happy Adulthood and the Goal of Therapy
When Someone You Love Has Repeated, Intense Episodes of Depression
Hidden Depression Among Us

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The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Justine R

    Justine R

    August 18th, 2012 at 6:44 AM

    I love that there seems to be more attention being paid to intervening with depression early and identifying risk factors in those who could be more predisposed to developing depression in the future.

    My big fear however, as always, is that we may start pointing fingers ate people and saying this person or that looks like they will become depressed, whether they actually would or not. Let’s simply be careful not to pigeonhole these people and set them up for failure in the future.

  • reanne


    August 18th, 2012 at 9:24 AM

    If only it were this simple to always be able to point out who may have issues with depression in the future and who may not sure would make life a whole lot easier wouldn’t it? Unfortunately it is not alwats so easy to make that prior diagnosis.

  • Oliver


    August 18th, 2012 at 9:46 AM

    There are a number of other things that could be reasons for depression because, well, depression is a very general term.I used to be depressed due to bad academics in my teen years.Although I never had a major episode of depression,it did become a constant source of trouble for me mentally until it all fell in place after so manny years of suffering.

  • posey q

    posey q

    August 19th, 2012 at 4:56 AM

    It is not always the case that someone will experience depression early in life. Look at the many adult patients who do not experience an MDD until later in life, perhaps after financial turmoil or maybe even the loss of a spouse. There are all kinds of instigators that could make someone more susceptible to MDD, and no matter the age of the person we have to be aware when this could become a possibility and continue to try new things to treat any patient with these symptoms.

  • L.P


    August 19th, 2012 at 11:44 PM

    While there are some common symptoms and some others are prevalent in only some people, the very act of being able to identify these symptoms is a very important initial step.

    And lack of awareness leads a lot of people to ignore symptoms and thereby preventing them from seeking early treatment. And we all know what happens to a disorder or problem when it is not treated early on. The disorder can grow bigger and that will only lead to more complications.

    So stay aware and stay alert people. Its not your mistake if you have a disorder but it is your mistake if you do not identify and treat it quick enough! I do not even want to get started on how people have gone on to suffer only because they acted too late.

  • NanaJ


    August 20th, 2012 at 4:21 AM

    If parents are in tune to what their children are facing and dealing with on a daily basis then they will notice when there are problems going on and hopefully will be bale to work with the child’s peditricians to make any necessary changes and adjustments that need to be made.
    Depression if left untreated can take a serious toll on one’s health, so please, let’s take the time out of our busy schedules to do a serious assessment of our kids just to make sure that we are doing everything that we can to ensure that they are both healthy and happy.

  • cathy


    August 20th, 2012 at 9:38 AM

    I’m prone to being depressed I guess. Things that do not make much of a difference to others can often send me down a path so depressive in my mind :(
    When such an episode occurs I often wonder if I’m going to be able to get out of that depressive trap. But even after I am out I just can’t help falling back into it again and again. I just can’t seem to help it. Any help?

  • Claire Mc

    Claire Mc

    August 21st, 2012 at 8:06 AM

    This is a great time of the year to begin raising awareness about depression and the signs that we should all look for.

    There are many college students who go away from home for the first time and have a very difficult time adjusting to life away from home. When they have a hard time making new friends and are away from their parents often they will slip into depression without having anyone around who will notice what is going on with them.

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