The Pacific Islands Families Study, published in the latest issue of the New Zealand Medical Journal, found seven per cent of nine-year-old Pacific children showed depressive symptoms compared with the one-to-three per cent prevalence generally in children.
Depression was also associated with internalising behaviour problems and low maternal education, with better educated mothers more likely to recognise depressive symptoms and embrace health services.
Low depression scores among the 858 children surveyed were linked with their positive self-perception, physical abilities, parental and peer relationships, high verbal intelligence and high performance at school.
“Child depression manifests as feelings of sadness, loneliness, hopelessness, agitation and guilt, and is a debilitating problem than can significantly impair social and school functioning,” the study authors said.
Building up self-esteem and social skills, combined with anti-bullying measures in school, were likely to reduce childhood depression, they said.
In a journal editorial, child psychiatry academics Stephanie Moor and Sally Merry, from Otago and Auckland universities respectively, say the relationship between bullying and depression is complex.
But the Christchurch Health and Development Study had previously shown that if a parent or teacher reported that a child aged seven to 12 was a bully, then as an adolescent and adult they were at risk of mental health problems including depression.
“Moreover, parental reports of their child being a victim of bullying in early teen years in this study were associated with a range of mental health problems including depression and suicidality over adolescence and adulthood.”
Interventions tackling bullying at school have been shown to improve not only the health of victims but also to have economic advantages, with increased school attendance and attainment leading to better employment and earnings, Dr Moor and Dr Merry say.
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