ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2016, Vol. 48 ›› Issue (8): 957-968.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2016.00957

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The trajectories of adolescent depressive symptoms: Identifying latent subgroups and risk factors

HOU Jinqin1; CHEN Zhiyan2   

  1. (1 National Institute of Education Sciences, Beijing 100088, China ) (2 Institute of Psychology, Chinese Academy of Science, Beijing 100101, China)
  • Received:2015-04-20 Published:2016-08-25 Online:2016-08-25
  • Contact: CHEN Zhiyan, E-mail:


Gender differences emerge when entering into adolescence. Girls’ depressive symptoms follow an inverted U-shaped trajectory while boys’ either slightly increase or remain stable from adolescence to adulthood. Moreover, previous studies have shown heterogeneity of developmental trajectories in depressive symptoms in Western youths. However, whether this pattern can be generalized to Chinese youth needs to be studied further based on the finding that the prevalence and risk factors associated with depressive symptoms are culture-dependent. Therefore, the aims of the present study were to examine the trajectories of adolescent depressive symptoms for boys and girls, respectively; to examine the subgroups of trajectories of adolescent depressive symptoms and to explore the risk factors. Data for the present study were collected from a longitudinal study named Chinese Adolescent Mental Health Research Program. Permission to conduct the research was obtained from school administrators and the survey took place in classrooms at wave 1. In order to enlarge the sample of the longitudinal study, data were collected from both school-based study and home-based study at wave 2 and wave 3. Adolescents reported their depressive symptoms, puberty status, interpersonal relationships, and the academic pressure. Parents reported their educational levels and household income to indicate their social economic status. Cohort sequential design was used to examine the trajectories of boys’ and girls’ depressive symptoms, respectively; latent class analysis was used to examine the subgroups; risk factors were regressed in the logistic regression. The present study focused on adolescents who were born from 1992 to 1998, and the average ages at wave 1 for boys and girls were 12.99 ± 1.84 and 12.96 ± 1.87 years old, respectively. About 48% of the participants were boys, and 68% were the only-child. Just as expected, Chinese adolescents followed different patterns of depressive symptoms from U.S. youths. Specifically, girls followed an inverted U-shaped trajectory with larger age range than U.S. girls, while boys’ depressive symptoms increased linearly with time. Latent class analysis identified two subgroups in boys, with 15% boys in consistently high group and 85% boys in the increasing group. Boys who were in the consistently high group suffered greater interpersonal pressure than those who were in the increasing group. Girls were identified with four different patterns: low-increasing depressive symptoms (64%), moderate depressive symptoms (21%), sharp-increasing depressive symptoms (10%) and high-decreasing depressive symptoms (5%). Interpersonal relationship and academic pressure associated with the heterogeneity. In particular, interpersonal relationships contributed more to the initial level of depressive symptoms, while academic pressure contributed to the slope of depressive symptoms. The study made important contributions to the knowledge on the development of adolescents’ depressive symptoms in China. It was the first study to examine the trajectories of adolescents’ depressive symptoms from early to late adolescence, and the specific characteristics of adolescents’ depressive symptoms in China gave us an opportunity to examine the mechanism and the factors. The strengths of this study should be considered along with its limitations, and researches are encouraged to examine the generalization of the study.

Key words: depressive symptoms, trajectory, gender differences, subgroups, risk factors