The relationship between depression and aggressive behaviors in adolescents has previously been reported in clinical and epidemiological studies. However, there is conflicting evidence concerning the effect of gender on this relationship. This study tested whether the link between depressive symptoms and physical aggression differed between boys and girls in a large community-based sample of adolescents.
A cross-sectional sample of adolescents aged 15–19 (N = 6,677) was studied within the 2007 ESPAD national survey. Depressive symptoms were assessed using the Adolescent Depression Rating Scale. We distinguished adolescents with subthreshold levels of depressive symptoms and adolescents with clinically significant levels of depressive symptoms. Physical aggressive behaviors in the last year were reported using items from the Antisocial Behavior Scale.
After adjusting for confounding variables, the odds-ratio between depressive symptoms and physical aggressive behaviors was around 1.4. This relationship was stronger for girls than for boys in presence of clinically significant levels of depressive symptoms, but did not differ between the genders in the case of subthreshold levels of depressive symptoms.
Girls with severe depressive symptoms were more likely to present physical aggressive behaviors than boys. Future studies will be needed to explore the role of irritability in these differences.