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Developmental Psychopathology

The Dynamic Nature Of Risk And Resilience

Developmental psychopathologists stress that the nature of risk and resilience may vary considerably over parts of the life span. First, risk and protective factors differ in terms of their duration and patterning over time. For example, the degree of risk to children of depressed parents depends on their history of exposure to parental depression (e.g., length, frequency), with lengthier and more frequent bouts markedly increasing children's risk for disorder (e.g., Campbell, Cohn, and Meyers 1995). Thus, in understanding why some children develop disorders and others do not, it may be useful to distinguish between transient (e.g.., short-term, temporary conditions) and enduring (e.g., conditions persisting over significant parts of the life span) risk and protective factors (Cicchetti and Toth 1995)

Second, disorders often follow the course of several stages, including onset, maintenance (i.e., continuation of symptoms), remission (i.e., temporary alleviation of symptoms), recurrence (i.e., redevelopment of symptoms) and termination. Each of these stages of maladaptation may be associated with different sets of factors, causes, and consequences. For example, family conflict may play a causal role in the onset of children's conduct problems, but peers and teachers may maintain or further intensify the problems even in the face of marked reductions in family conflict (Fincham, Grych, and Osborne 1994).

Third, individuals may vary in how susceptible they are to risk factors across different parts of the life span. Thus, some models of developmental psychopathology have stressed that children may be most vulnerable to parental depression during the periods of infancy and adolescence (e.g., Cummings and Davies 1994; Gelfand and Teti 1990). However, since age and developmental periods are rather crude markers for the actual processes that increase vulnerability, this information cannot tell us why certain age groups are especially likely to develop disorders in the face of risk. On the one hand, age differences in risk may result from differences in experiences with risk. For example, adolescents of depressed parents may be especially likely to develop disorders because, on average, they have been exposed to depression for a longer period of time than younger children. On the other hand, age differences may also result from the operation of sensitive periods, in which specific risk factors have especially strong influences on individuals within certain periods of the life span (Cicchetti 1993). Thus, the stress of living with a depressed parent may more easily overwhelm adolescents than children because they (a) are more sensitive to family distress; (b) face more developmental challenges (e.g., career decisions, independence from parents, establishment of dating relationships); and (c) must cope with especially an especially large number of stressful events (e.g., establishment of romantic relationships) (Davies and Windle 1997).


Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaFamily Health IssuesDevelopmental Psychopathology - Risk And Resilience, The Complexity Of Risk Processes, Resilience And The Role Of Protective Factors