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Objective: To describe the range of depressive symptoms reported by adolescents in a nationally representative U.S. sample and to examine factors associated with persistent depressive symptoms.

Method: Secondary analysis was done on National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (AddHealth) data from 13,568 adolescents who completed the initial survey in 1995 and follow-up 1 year later. Main outcomes of Center for Epidemiologic Studies-Depression Scale (CES-D) scores were analyzed by [chi]2 comparisons and sample-weighted logistic regression.

Results: Over 9% of adolescents reported moderate/severe depressive symptoms at baseline (CES-D >= 24). Females, older adolescents, and ethnic minority youths were more likely to report depressive symptoms at baseline. Only 3% of adolescents with low initial CES-D scores (CES-D < 16) developed moderate/severe depressive symptoms at follow-up. Factors associated with persistent depressive symptoms at 1-year follow-up included: female gender, fair/poor general health, school suspension, weaker family relationships, and health care utilization. Other factors, including race and socioeconomics, did not predict persistent depressive symptoms.

Conclusions: Depressive symptoms are common in adolescents and have a course that is difficult to predict. Most adolescents with minimal symptoms of depression maintain their status and appear to be at low risk for depression; however, adolescents with moderate/severe depressive symptoms warrant long-term follow-up and reevaluation.

Copyright 2002 (C) American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry