Academics and Research / Magazine Feature

Adolescent depression topic of study for psychology professor

If Benjamin Hankin can figure out why depression comes on and dramatically increases during adolescence, he hopes he can spare many people and their families from its debilitating affects.

“Depression is a significant public health concern,” says Hankin, associate professor of psychology at DU. “It affects all areas of your life: school, family, friends, work and happiness.”

Hankin has been studying depression for almost 15 years and has made significant findings. From the research he and his colleagues have completed, they’ve found that depression increases sixfold during adolescence in the high school years — and this is when twice as many girls as boys become depressed.

He is now hoping to find out why through two new research projects. Hankin is working with John Abela, professor of psychology at Rutgers, on the studies.

“Ben is a superb researcher and theoretician who has emerged in recent years as a real leader in the field of developmental psychopathology,” Abela says. “His work is conceptually rich and methodologically sophisticated, and he has boundless energy and enthusiasm for research.”

One study the two have worked on looked at 375 children and their parents for seven years beginning when the children were ages 11–14. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and Canadian Institute for Health Research funded the study. The ongoing research looks for psychosocial predictors of depression.

“We do a comprehensive assessment when we first meet the children and their families,” Hankin says. “We then follow up with them every three months to assess for symptoms and life stress.”

They’ve already found that pessimistic youth who experience more stress are the most likely to be depressed. They’ll follow the youth until ages 18–21 when they hope to have comprehensive data.

The other study, the Gene-Environment Mood (GEM), will follow 750 children and their families as the children progress through third, sixth and ninth grades. The five-year study, also funded by NIMH, aims to understand how genes, psychosocial factors and stress predict depression.

“These children will go through similar assessments of personality, relationship, thinking styles, stress and diagnostic interviews,” Hankin says. “But we will also get saliva samples to obtain DNA for testing genetic risk.”

Study participants are needed in New Jersey and Denver. For information, visit

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