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A psychological study of childhood depression in a rural population

Vandamme, Thomas H. P. (2001) A psychological study of childhood depression in a rural population. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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Depressive symptoms as measured with the Children’s Depression Inventory (GDI) were analysed for a large sample (1250) of school children ranging in age from eight to 12 years. They were distributed among eight schools from five towns in the Pilbara Region of Western Australia. Most (861) were followed up at least once while small subsamples were retested up to three times. A small random sample was also selected from the top and bottom ten per cent of the GDI distribution as it was presented at the initial assessment.

In addition to self-reported depression, estimates of mental ability, basic attainments in spelling and arithmetic, pessimism, social skills deficits, self-esteem, and family relations were obtained. Reading comprehension scores and attendance records were provided by some schools as well. The first follow-up focused on depression, hopelessness, and peer rejection.

Statistically, the CDI data was calibrated with Rasch analysis, followed by distribution statistics, ANOVA, multiple regression analysis and Chi-squared. Rasch analysis was also employed to examine CDI item response patterns according to age. Finally, factor analysis was used in order to report on the factor structure of the CDI.

The main findings were moderate age differences, but for total CDI scores only. That is, older children had a tendency to have lower CDI scores than younger children.

As to cognitive differences, higher depression scores tended to be associated with lower scores in mental ability, spelling, and arithmetic. A moderate positive relationship was also obtained between depression and absenteeism. Peer group rejection was a strong predictor of depression especially for the initial assessment. A further analysis with critical cut-offs for both ‘depression’ and ‘rejection’ showed, however, that the relationship between the two variables was a complex one in that a sizeable number of children were high in rejection, but at the same time not at the clinical cut-off for depression.

There was a moderate gender difference obtained for depression with the older girls having lower scores than boys. Depression was also inversely associated with self-concept in that impairment in self-concept was a strong predictor for increased depression.

Hopelessness was the strongest predictor for depression both initially and at follow-up. Similarly to peer-group rejection, the relationship between hopelessness and depression, when critical cut-offs were employed, showed that only about half of those at a clinical level for depression were also at a clinical level for hopelessness. Longitudinally, the best predictor for subsequent depression was previous depression.

When clinical cut-offs were used for depression, a decline in severity was observed in subsequent depression for those who scored at a critical level the first time they were tested. An increase in depression upon follow-up, however, occurred for those who were below the clinical cut-off initially. Prevalence rates with a GDI cut-off score of 19 or greater were between 12 and 13 per cent for the largest sample.

It was hypothesized that the GDI factor structure would closely resemble the factor structure of the normative study and related surveys, and this was generally supported. Finally, the results are discussed in relation to theoretical explanations and the literature in childhood depression together with implications for treatment, methodological limitations and future directions.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Division of Social Sciences, Humanities and Education
Notes: Note to the author: If you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University Library's Research Repository, please contact: Thank you.
Supervisor(s): Straton, Ralph, Peterson, Candi and Renshaw, Peter
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