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Intergenerational transmission of depression: A launch and grow model of change across adolescence

  • Judy Garber (a1) and David A. Cole (a1)


The present study tested a “launch-and-grow” type of cascade model in which an earlier risk factor (e.g., exposure to maternal depression by age 12) was hypothesized to predict several risk processes during development (e.g., stress, family relationships, self-worth [SW]), which then set the course for the growth of children's depressive symptoms over time. Participants were 240 mothers and children (mean age = 11.87 years, SD = 0.57) who were evaluated annually across 6 years. The Structured Clinical Interview for DSM diagnoses was used to assess mothers' psychiatric history; 185 mothers had had a mood disorder and 55 mothers were lifetime free of psychiatric diagnoses. At each assessment, mothers completed measures of their current level of depressive symptoms and stressful life events; adolescents completed measures about their perceptions of the family environment and their SW; and clinicians rated adolescents' level of depressive symptoms based on separate interviews with the adolescent and mother. Latent growth curve analyses revealed that history of maternal depression significantly predicted the intercepts of the growth trajectories of adolescents' depressive symptoms, mothers' current depressive symptoms, stressful life events, family environment, and adolescents' SW. The intercepts of each of these variables then predicted the trajectory (i.e., slope) of the growth of adolescents' depressive symptoms across the 6 years of the study. These results were consistent with the hypothesized model of maternal depression launching a set of risk factors, which in turn predict the growth of depressive symptoms during adolescence. Implications for interventions aimed at preventing depression in at-risk youth are discussed.


Corresponding author

Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Judy Garber, Department of Psychology, 0552 Peabody, 230 Appleton Place, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN 37203-5721; E-mail:


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