Major Topics of Research

Our research focuses on mood disorders in adolescents and adults, mainly addressing risk factors for recurrent unipolar depressive disorder, with a secondary interest in course and outcomes in bipolar disorder. In recent years the key risk factors we study are stress, parental depression, family factors, and interpersonal functioning; recently we have also been exploring gene x environment interactions. All of our studies are longitudinal, and attempt to model the complex transactions between the person and the environment. The Publications link includes references to articles that represent the constructs and topics described below.

Intergenerational Transmission of Psychopathology

Depression runs in families. Offspring "inherit" maladaptive environments in living with a depressed parent, as well as the genetically transmitted characteristics which make them susceptible to depression under certain conditions. Moreover, we suspect that the pattern of depression transmission continues over generations because children of depressed parents have vulnerabilities that expose them to further risks of stressful conditions that may precipitate depression. Such adverse conditions may include maladaptive characteristics of romantic partners and poor relationship quality, as well as problems in parenting their own children. It is our challenge to attempt to tease apart many different, interconnected factors that contribute to high risk for depression in families of depressed mothers.

Stress and Interpersonal Perspectives on Psychopathology

Most depressive experiences are reactions to negative life events and circumstances, and in order to study such processes we have invested in the improvement of measurement of chronic and episodic stress in children, adolescents, and adults. In studying the effects of stress we observed that life events are not random; people who have experienced depression tend to have higher levels of stress even when not in a depressed mood. On close examination we found that they are likely to have high levels of events that they have caused or contributed to, at least in part – especially interpersonal and conflict events. We have called this pattern "stress generation", and it is an important contributor to recurrent and chronic depression. We are interested in the personal beliefs, behaviors, and environmental circumstances of depressed people that contribute to stress generation. Maladaptive interpersonal functioning in peer and close relationships appears to reflect unique characteristics relevant to depression vulnerability. The more we can understand such social patterns and their origins, the more likely we can intervene to prevent or treat recurrent depression.