Depression and delinquency covariation in an accelerated longitudinal sample of adolescents

J Consult Clin Psychol. 2011 Aug;79(4):458-69. doi: 10.1037/a0024108.


Objectives: The current study tested opposing predictions stemming from the failure and acting out theories of depression-delinquency covariation.

Method: Participants included a nationwide longitudinal sample of adolescents (N = 3,604) ages 12 to 17. Competing models were tested with cohort-sequential latent growth curve modeling to determine whether depressive symptoms at age 12 (baseline) predicted concurrent and age-related changes in delinquent behavior, whether the opposite pattern was apparent (delinquency predicting depression), and whether initial levels of depression predict changes in delinquency significantly better than vice versa.

Results: Early depressive symptoms predicted age-related changes in delinquent behavior significantly better than early delinquency predicted changes in depressive symptoms. In addition, the impact of gender on age-related changes in delinquent symptoms was mediated by gender differences in depressive symptom changes, indicating that depressive symptoms are a particularly salient risk factor for delinquent behavior in girls.

Conclusion: Early depressive symptoms represent a significant risk factor for later delinquent behavior--especially for girls--and appear to be a better predictor of later delinquency than early delinquency is of later depression. These findings provide support for the acting out theory and contradict failure theory predictions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Acting Out*
  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior / psychology*
  • Child
  • Depression / diagnosis
  • Depression / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Juvenile Delinquency / psychology*
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Psychological Theory
  • Risk Factors