Depression is a common mental illness and research has focused on late childhood and adolescence in an attempt to prevent or reduce later psychopathology and/or social impairments. It is important to establish and study population-averaged trajectories of depressive symptoms across adolescence as this could characterise specific changes in populations and help identify critical points to intervene with treatment. Multilevel growth-curve models were used to explore adolescent trajectories of depressive symptoms in 9301 individuals (57% female) from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, a UK based pregnancy cohort. Trajectories of depressive symptoms were constructed for males and females using the short mood and feelings questionnaire over 8 occasions, between 10 and 22 years old. Critical points of development such as age of peak velocity for depressive symptoms (the age at which depressive symptoms increase most rapidly) and the age of maximum depressive symptoms were also derived. The results suggested that from similar initial levels of depressive symptoms at age 11, females on average experienced steeper increases in depressive symptoms than males over their teenage and adolescent years until around the age of 20 when levels of depressive symptoms plateaued and started to decrease for both sexes. Females on average also had an earlier age of peak velocity of depressive symptoms that occurred at 13.5 years, compared to males who on average had an age of peak velocity at 16 years old. Evidence was less clear for a difference between the ages of maximum depressive symptoms which were on average 19.6 years for females and 20.4 for males. Identifying critical periods for different population subgroups may provide useful knowledge for treating and preventing depression and could be tailored to be time specific for certain groups. Possible explanations and recommendations are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)815-827
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Youth and Adolescence
Issue number4
Early online date22 Jan 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2019

Structured keywords

  • SoE Centre for Multilevel Modelling


  • depressive symptoms
  • trajectories
  • multilevel growth-curve modelling
  • critical points


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