Highly Somatizing Young Adolescents and the Risk of Depression
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OBJECTIVE: To determine if high levels of somatization symptoms in 13- to 16-year-olds from the general population predict risk of major depression and other psychiatric disorders 4 years later. METHOD: Cohort study, using interview and self-report survey data from the 1983 Ontario Child Health Study (OCHS) and 1987 OCHS Follow-up. The study population included 1015 13- to 16-year-olds from the general community within Ontario. Baseline levels of somatization and emotional disorder were measured by the Survey Diagnostic Instrument, a checklist based on DSM-III criteria. Data were also collected for a range of sociodemographic factors, as well as the presence of chronic health problems. Major depression, anxiety disorders, and substance abuse and dependency at follow-up were measured using a self-administered questionnaire derived from the Diagnostic Interview Schedule. Bivariate and multiple logistic regression techniques were used to assess the relationship between high levels of somatization symptoms (>90th percentile) and later emotional morbidity, with adjustment for potential confounding factors, including gender and baseline disorders. RESULTS: Highly somatizing adolescents are at increased risk of major depression 4 years later, an association that is not explained by detectable emotional disorder at baseline or gender differences between groups. There is an important interaction between somatization and emotional disorder in predicting risk of major depression. It is primarily the group of 13- to 16-year-olds not recognized as being emotionally disordered at the initial OCHS survey in which somatization symptoms increased risk of later depression. The young teen with high levels of somatic complaints had as much risk of later depression as his/her peer with more typical symptoms of emotional disorder. Highly somatizing adolescents were also more likely to describe panic attacks at 4-year follow-up. There was no increased risk of substance abuse/dependency in the highly somatizing group or in generalized anxiety. CONCLUSIONS: High levels of somatic symptoms identified in young adolescents in the community represent a significant risk factor for major depression 4 years later, particularly in those individuals who do not present with more typical symptoms of emotional disorder. To detect the emergence of this serious emotional morbidity, adequate follow-up and continuity of care for these challenging patients are needed.
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