Major Depression Does Vary by Age & Gender

Major depressive disorder rates and risk factors broken down by age group

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Everybody gets a little blue from time to time, but major depressive episodes can be an indicator of future troubles. Recognizing symptoms and getting help early may make a difference.

A recent study looked at the incidence of certain markers of major depressive disorder in a large group broken down into four developmental stages from the age of 5-30. The study’s finding showed a higher risk for major depressive disorder in females and suicide attempts in the adolescent group.

"Seek a therapist if you have major depressive episodes."

Paul Rohde, PhD, senior research scientist from the Oregon Research Institute, led colleagues to investigate the progression of depression from childhood to adulthood.

For the study, data from 816 individuals, aged 5-30, was taken from the Oregon Adolescent Depression Project (OADP) and was broken down by developmental stages. The OADP was comprised of a random selection of western Oregon high school students, who were interviewed about their past and present experiences and followed until they were 30 years of age.

Researchers were looking for markers within those stages for major depressive disorder (MDD).

The developmental stages were as follows:

  • Childhood: 5-12.9 years of age
  • Adolescence: 13-17.9 years of age
  • Emerging Adulthood: 18-23.9 years of age
  • Adulthood: 24-30 years of age

Markers included:

  • Incidence and recurrence of MDD
  • Gender (the group was 56 percent female)
  • MDD along with one or more other disorders (comorbidity)
  • Length of MDD episode
  • Suicide attempts

Overall, 51 percent of participants had experienced at least one episode of MDD by 30 years of age.

Of the 51 percent, 53 percent had at least one recurrent episode of MDD by 30 years of age.

First incidence of MDD occurred in childhood for 53 people, in adolescence for 201, in emerging adulthood for 152 and in adulthood for 71 people.

Recurrence of MDD occurred in childhood for 3 people, in adolescence for 20, in emerging adulthood for 109 and in adulthood for 158 people.

Within the childhood developmental stage, 38 percent of MDD episodes occurred between the ages of 5-9, 13 percent at 10 years of age, 23 percent at 11 years of age and 26 percent at 12 years of age.

Female gender was a predictor of MDD. In childhood, the odds of having an episode were 4 times greater in females. In adolescence, emerging adulthood and adulthood, the odds were 2.5 times greater.

Comorbidity of MDD with anxiety or substance use was also significant across the board. The odds of an anxiety disorder were approximately 4 times greater for people with MDD, with little variation through developmental stages.

Duration of an MDD episode was likely to be twice as long in the childhood stage compared to the following three stages.

A total of 19 percent of the MDD group had at least one suicide attempt by 30 years of age. Having MDD through the age of 30 increased the odds of a suicide attempt 8 times compared to those without MDD.

Authors concluded, “Depression research should focus on MDD during emerging adulthood, adolescent suicidal behavior, the continuing role of gender into adulthood and the ubiquity of MDD.”

This study was published in October in Clinical Psychological Science.

Research support was funded by grants from the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

No conflicts of interest were reported.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
January 1, 2013
Last Updated:
January 4, 2013