Language Stimulation Correlated with Childhood Depression

by Patrick Yang

Figure 1. Home language stimulation may prevent the early onset of depression.


According to the Federal Center for Mental Health Services, depression affects one in thirty-three children and one in eight adolescents aged 12-18. As of 2014, approximately 2.8 million adolescents aged 12 to 17 experienced at least one major depressive episode. This childhood depression is often correlated with social, emotional, and academic impediments that can transition into adulthood.  Although early intervention is effective in the prevention of mental illness, very little is known about the factors that affect the early onset of depression.

Several months ago, Keith Herman, Ph.D., and associate researchers of Missouri-Columbia conducted an investigation to discover the chief determinant of the early onset of depression. They observed the relationship between learning language stimulation and the emergence of depression in a sample size of 587 children in Hawaii. The study collected data according to the Home Observation for Measurement of the Environment (HOME) inventory, a standardized observational assessment that ascertains the quality and quantity of stimulation in a domestic environment. A standardized language test, behavioral checklist, and temperament questionnaire were also administered to the children to gauge their language skills and disposition at the age of 3. These assessments were administered yearly from first through third grade.

It was determined that children who scored within or lower than the 25th percentile of the HOME assessment had low levels of domestic language stimulation. These children with language delays at age 3 progressed to first grade with language difficulties, and were three times more likely to develop symptoms of depression by third grade. In contrast, children with adequate home learning environments scored above the 25th percentile, and were much less likely to develop any symptoms of depression. Since the home is a principle environmental precursor to the onset of depressive symptoms, the risk of serious developmental impediments due to lack of domestic language stimulation motions parents to become more involved in their children’s education. Although language skills are partly rooted in physiology, home learning stimulation and positive adult-child interactions are critical components for successful development.



  1. K. C. Herman et al., Language delays and child depressive symptoms: the role of early stimulation in the home. Prevention Science 17, 533-543 (2016). doi:10.1007/s11121-016-0647-2.
  2. Image retrieved from:

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