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Depression and self-concept: the role of self perceptions in understanding, assessing, and intervening with depressed adolescents

In 1994 the World Health Organization published statistics which identified New Zealand youth, and males in particular, as being the most likely to die by suicide compared to young people in 22 other economically developed countries (WHO 1993). A review of the literature suggests that depression in adolescents is a highly significant precursor to suicidal behaviour. For the most part, models of depression that have been applied to adolescents fail to acknowledge the unique social context within which adolescents function, and tend not to be sensitive to developmental considerations. This thesis explores key aspects of the adolescent depression literature, focussing particular attention on the core adolescent task of the development of a sense of self. The literature review prompted two research studies. The first study examined qualitative data from clinical interviews with depressed youth. Three major themes were drawn out of these interviews, the importance of relationships, perceptions of power and agency, and the sense that the young people had of themselves, their self-concept. These themes were present when the participants talked about their lives in general, and depression in particular. Depression impacted on their relationships with families and peers, rendered them less able to manage their lives, and negatively effected their self conceptions. The second study was a survey of a community sample of non-referred adolescents. The focus here was to explore the correlates of teenage depression, again with particular reference to variables that were likely to be related to self-conceptions. As well as a measure of self-concept, I also explored attributions for everyday events and depression on the basis that the way a person thinks about themselves (self-concept) is likely to influence their reasoning about the world and depression, and vice versa. The data reflected a statistically significant relationship between depression and self-concept, as well as supporting the associations with attributions and the importance of life experiences. The process of interpreting the various associations highlighted the importance of adopting an adolescent frame of reference when thinking about factors influencing the development of depression in adolescents. These first two studies were completed to complement each other, focussing on similar variables, but using different methodologies. The third study utilised the data from the first two to generate a clinical intervention based on the enhancement of self-concept as a route to achieving symptomatic and clinically relevant change in a small number of depressed adolescents. The psychometric data suggested that depressive symptoms reduced as self-concept became more positive, this was confirmed by the clinical presentation of the young people. Despite the small sample size, both the quantitative and qualitative data suggest that an intervention aimed at promoting positive self-conceptions may be a useful adjunct to mainstream cognitive-behavioural intervention programmes.
Type of thesis
Fitzgerald, J. (2002). Depression and self-concept: the role of self perceptions in understanding, assessing, and intervening with depressed adolescents (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/14046
The University of Waikato
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