Objective: To qualitatively review the literature of the past decade covering the epidemiology, clinical characteristics, natural course, biology, and other correlates of early-onset major depressive disorder (MDD) and dysthymic disorder (DD).
Method: A computerized search for articles published during the past 10 years was made and selected studies are presented.
Results: Early-onset MDD and DD are frequent, recurrent, and familial disorders that tend to continue into adulthood, and they are frequently accompanied by other psychiatric disorders. These disorders are usually associated with poor psychosocial and academic outcome and increased risk for substance abuse, bipolar disorder, and suicide. In addition, DD increases the risk for MDD. There is a secular increase in the prevalence of MDD, and it appears that MDD is occurring at an earlier age in successive cohorts. Several genetic, familial, demographic, psychosocial, cognitive, and biological correlates of onset and course of early-onset depression have been identified. Few studies, however, have examined the combined effects of these correlates.
Conclusions: Considerable advances have been made in our knowledge of early-onset depression. Nevertheless, further research is needed in understanding the pathogenesis of childhood mood disorders. Toward this end, studies aimed at elucidating mechanisms and interrelationships among the different domains of risk factors are needed.