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Depression in young adult psychiatric outpatients: delimiting early onset




The aim of this study was to examine differences in childhood, adolescent and adult onset of depression.


Young psychiatric outpatients (n = 156) diagnosed with a lifetime depressive episode were divided into three groups according to age of onset of their first depressive episode: childhood (≤12 years, n = 21), adolescent (13–17 years, n = 58) and early adult onset (18–25 years, n = 77). Participants were assessed by diagnostic interviews and by questionnaires measuring previous life events and childhood developmental delays. Clinical characteristics and various risk factors were compared between groups.


This clinical sample was dominated by women, with onset of their first depressive episode occurring during adolescence. Childhood onset was related to an increased number of depressive episodes, higher prevalence of personality disorders, more current social problems and more reported development delays during childhood regarding literacy learning, social skills and memory. They also reported more separation anxiety symptoms and neglect during childhood and more experiences of teenage pregnancies and abortions.


Childhood onset of depression is associated with more severe symptoms, more psychosocial risk factors and childhood developmental delays. Because all onset groups shared many features, the results are inconclusive if there are distinct subgroups according to age of onset.

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