Childhood Social Withdrawal, Interpersonal Impairment, and Young Adult Depression: A Mediational Model

Abstract

Building on interpersonal theories of depression, the current study sought to explore whether early childhood social withdrawal serves as a risk factor for depressive symptoms and diagnoses in young adulthood. The researchers hypothesized that social impairment at age 15 would mediate the association between social withdrawal at age 5 and depression by age 20. This mediational model was tested in a community sample of 702 Australian youth followed from mother’s pregnancy to youth age 20. Structural equation modeling analyses found support for a model in which childhood social withdrawal predicted adolescent social impairment, which, in turn, predicted depression in young adulthood. Additionally, gender was found to moderate the relationship between adolescent social impairment and depression in early adulthood, with females exhibiting a stronger association between social functioning and depression at the symptom and diagnostic level. This study illuminates one potential pathway from early developing social difficulties to later depressive symptoms and disorders.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    In both the symptom and diagnosis models, excluding maternal depression from the models did not alter the pattern or significance of results.

  2. 2.

    When both the symptom and diagnosis models were re-run to include the direct effect of social withdrawal on depressive outcomes, all previously significant paths and the indirect effects involving social impairment at age 15 remained significant (zs > 2.0, ps < 0.05).

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Acknowledgments

This research was supported by the National Health and Medical Research Council, the Mater Misericordiae Mothers’ Hospital in Queensland, Australia, and the National Institute of Mental Health grant R01 MH52239. We are thankful for the work of project coordinators, Robin LeBrocque, Cheri Dalton Comber, and Sascha Hardwicke, and the many members of the MUSP, M900, and M20 research teams. We gratefully acknowledge William Bor, Michael O’Callaghan, and Gail Williams, principal investigators of the original Mater-University of Queensland Study of Pregnancy. Special thanks to the parents and youth in the Mater cohort, without whom this research would not have been possible.

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Correspondence to Shaina J. Katz.

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Katz, S.J., Conway, C.C., Hammen, C.L. et al. Childhood Social Withdrawal, Interpersonal Impairment, and Young Adult Depression: A Mediational Model. J Abnorm Child Psychol 39, 1227 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10802-011-9537-z

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Keywords

  • Social withdrawal
  • Interpersonal functioning
  • Social impairment
  • Depression
  • Community sample
  • Longitudinal studies