The most incisive guide to issues facing the American family today . . . An invaluable resource for anyone wishing to stay on the cutting edge of research on family trends.

-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia 

Anxious in Athens—Adolescents in the Shadow of Parental Divorce

Bryce J. Christensen and Nicole M. King

Promulgating a theory of trickle-down happiness, the Seventies-era advocates of permissive divorce laws argued that if parents could get out of unsatisfying marriages easily, they would be happier and then their children would share in that enhanced happiness. The latest evidence that things do not typically run on this script comes from a study recently completed by researchers at a number of Greek universities, including Athens University and the University of Ioannina.

Concerned about the prevalence of depression among adolescents, the researchers attempt to gauge the extent of the problem and its antecedents in Greece. To do so, they parse data collected in 2007-2008 from 2,427 students ages 16 to 18 attending 25 Greek high schools, data revealing that 5.7% of those surveyed had experienced a “depressive episode” during the study period.

Through further scrutiny of the data, the Greek scholars identify family background as a key predictor of adolescents’ vulnerability to such depression. “Parent’s divorce or separation,” the scholars report, “was associated with an increased prevalence of depressive symptoms” among the teens in this study. The researchers in fact calculate that depressive episodes were more than twice as common among the adolescents who had experienced parental divorce or separation than they were among peers in intact families (Odds Ratio of 2.02).

Though this new finding of a strong link between parental divorce and adolescent depression comes out of Greece, the researchers believe that their findings deserve attention far beyond the borders of their country. “Depression,” they note, “is a common mental health problem in adolescents worldwide.” Indeed, “the World Health Organization reports a rise in the burden of depression globally.”

Though the authors of this new study recognize the potential psychological effects of their country’s recent economic crisis, they emphasize that their data were collected “before the crisis and its effect became evident.” In any case, the Greek scholars remark that “the prevalence rate of depression found in [their] study is similar to ones reported by other studies conducted in Europe and the Unites States.”

And regardless of where depression strikes adolescents, the sequelae are not good: “Depression is one of the leading causes of disease burden and disability across all age groups,” the researchers stress, “and a major risk factor for suicide, substance abuse and serious social and educational impairments.”

Whether in the Athens in Greece or one of the Athens found in Georgia, New York, Pennsylvania, Kansas, Ohio, or California, those who care about the well-being of adolescents will seek ways to foster enduring parental marriages.

(Konstantina Magklara et al., “Depression in Late Adolescence: A Cross-Sectional Study in Senior High Schools in Greece,” BMC Psychiatry 15 [2015]: 199, Web.)