Date of Award

Fall 1981

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


The primary purpose of this study was to better understand the antecedents of depression among adolescents by taking a family structural perspective. Based on clinical observations, Minuchin (1974) and Haley (1976) have developed theories of family functioning which define types of dysfunctional family structures (described as patterns of relating among family members) characteristic of disturbed families. This research attempts to empirically assess these dysfunctional structures in relation to adolescent depression.

A self-report questionnaire was designed and administered to 358 students from three high schools in southern New Hampshire. The questionnaire included assessments of: (1) behavioral interactions among family members representing clinically observed family structures; (2) depression symptoms measured by the short form of the Beck Depression Inventory (Beck, 1974), behavioral measures, and delinquent activities; and, (3) interactions with peers.

Results indicated that behavioral interactions similar to clinical descriptions of dysfunctional family structures were widely reported in a non-clinical sample. Results also provided empirical support for the relationship between dysfunctional behavioral interactions among family members and depressive symptomatology in adolescents. Family structures indicating a loss of supportive and adaptive interactions among family members (e.g. frequent argumentative exchanges, destructive modes of communications and infrequent supportive exchanges) were significantly associated with reported rates of depression. Loss of supportive interactions with peers was not found to be related to depression. However, results indicated that involvement with delinquent peers was associated with reported rates of depression.

Also reported are incidence rates of depression in the sample according to the clinical levels of the Beck Depression Inventory. Females reported significantly higher rates of depression than males. In addition, higher rates of depression were reported by 14 and 15 year olds than by 18 year olds.

Discussion centers on the implications of a family structural approach to the study of adolescent depression. Research on depression which includes variables assessing family interactions is suggested. Implications of these findings for future research and therapy applications are also discussed.