This special issue of Development and Psychopathology is devoted to developmental approaches to the study of depression. Because the developmental perspective has only recently begun to be applied to the study of the mood disorders, it is hardly surprising that relatively little work exists that focuses on the relation between developmental processes and the affective disorders.
Early attempts to view depression from a developmental perspective primarily involved targeting a particular psychological or psychobiological mechanism known to occur in adult depression in order to discern the possible operation of this process throughout the course of ontogenesis (Cicchetti & Schneider-Rosen, 1986; Rutter, 1986). Even within the limits of these earlier efforts to consider the implications of the developmental perspective for elucidating the understanding of the affective disorders, it became apparent that there were many domains of development that needed to be taken into account (most notably, socioemotional, cognitive, linguistic, social-cognitive, neurobiological, and neurochemical; see Cicchetti & Schneider-Rosen, 1986; Puig-Antich, 1986; Radke-Yarrow & Zahn-Waxler, 1990; Zahn-Waxler & Kochanska, 1990).
Moreover, from the integrative perspective of developmental psychopathology, it is argued that it is essential to engage in a comprehensive evaluation of those factors (e.g., biological, psychological, environmental, social, intrafamilial; cf. Cicchetti & Aber, 1986) that may influence the nature of individual differences, the continuity of adaptive or maladaptive behavioral patterns, and the different pathways by which the same developmental outcomes may be achieved (Cicchetti & Schneider-Rosen, 1986; Kovacs, 1986; Rutter, 1986; Sroufe & Rutter, 1984). In practice, this entails a comprehension of and appreciation for the developmental transformations and reorganizations that occur over time; an analysis of the risk and protective factors and mechanisms operating in the child and his or her environment; the investigation of how emergent functions, competencies, and developmental tasks modify the expression of a disorder or lead to new symptoms and difficulties; and the recognition that a particular stress or underlying mechanism may result in different behavioral difficulties, at different times in the developmental process and in different contexts (Cicchetti & Aber, 1986; Cicchetti & Schneider-Rosen, 1984; Garber, 1984; Garber & Dodge, 1991; Kovacs, Feinberg, Crouse-Novak, Paulauskas, & Finkelstein, 1984; Kovacs, Feinberg, Crouse-Novak, Paulauskas, Pollack, & Finkelstein, 1984; Nurcombe, in press; Rutter, 1986).