Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

RE-PAIR: Unravelling the Impact of Emotional Maltreatment on the Developing Brain

What role do parent-child interactions play in the development, maintenance and treatment of depression in young people?

Bernet Elzinga

Depressed adolescents

In this Vici project prof Elzinga and her research team will explore how everyday collisions can cause or maintain symptoms of depression among children and their parents. Excessive parental criticism and lack of warmth are major risk factors for the onset and maintenance of depression. Yet little is known about how exactly conflictual parent-child interactions affect the social networks within the brain and increase the susceptibility to depression.

Digital diaries

Adolescence is the appropriate period to study this, because about half of the first symptoms of depression occur at this age. Moreover, 70-80% of depressed adolescents will experience new depressive periods later in their lives. Elzinga will therefore examine the impact of daily positive and negative interactions between parents and their children on the child's mood. For her project they will make use of digital diaries and observations of both depressed and non-depressed adolescents and their parents.

Social brain

Because interactions work both ways, Elzinga also examines the extent to which mood swings of children may influence the perception of the behavior of parents or even elicit certain parental behaviors. Moreover, Elzinga and her colleagues also aim to identify in both parents and children the (dysfunctional) processes in the social networks of the brain and examine the extent to which these play a role in the daily interactions between parents and their children.

Getting parents more involved in the treatment of depressed adolescents

The ultimate goal of the project is to increase the effectiveness of the treatment of depression among adolescents. Now only half of the depressed adolescents recovers during treatment. This project aims to identify the key factors that play a role in the negative interactions between children and their parents. On the basis of these observations  more specific objectives can be formulated for family-interventions in order to alleviate the symptoms of depression of their children.

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