A systematic review and meta-analysis on the prevalence of depression in children and adolescents after exposure to trauma

Viktoria Vibhakar, Leila Allen, Brioney Gee, Richard Meiser-Stedman

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Background: Depression is often reported as co-occurring with post-traumatic stress disorder in children and adolescents, but its prevalence within trauma-exposed child and adolescent samples is not well understood.

Methods: Our meta-analyses addressed two questions: I. What is the prevalence of depression (either based on structured interview or cut-off on a self-report measure) in children and adolescents after exposure to trauma? II. Does trauma exposure increase the severity or rates of depression comparative to another comparison group of children and adolescents with milder exposure or no exposure to trauma?

Results: Fifty-six studies reported depression prevalence. A random effects meta-analysis suggested that 24.2% [95% CI 20.6 – 28.0] of children and adolescents exposed to a traumatic event met criteria for depression. Our second meta-analysis across 30 studies found that the effect of trauma exposure (relative to unexposed or less exposed children and adolescents) on depression scores was medium in size (d = 0.51, 95% CI 0.41 – 0.61). The odds of a diagnosis of depression were 2.6 times greater [95% CI 2.0 – 3.3] for children and adolescents exposed to trauma as compared to those unexposed or less exposed. Participants exposed to interpersonal violence (IPV) had a higher prevalence and level of depression compared with those exposed to non-IPV trauma.

Limitations: Results should be interpreted with caution due to high levels of heterogeneity.

Conclusion: Depression in trauma-exposed children and adolescents is a common response to trauma that is not solely reflective of pre-traumatic difficulties. Post-traumatic depression merits serious consideration in trauma-exposed children and adolescents.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)77-89
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
Early online date6 May 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2019

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