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Gifted Adolescents and Depression

Social and Emotional Resources

This Tips for Parents article is from a seminar hosted by Dr. Tracy Cross, who discusses concepts involving gifted adolescents and depression. He also provides a number of resources for further information.

Author: Cross, T.
Organization: Davidson Institute for Talent Development
Year: 2008

The term depression is used in two important but somewhat different ways. It has become one of the most common descriptors used in Western societies when people talk about how they feel. In that use it tends to reflect feeling states ranging from melancholy to sadness to despair. Clinical depression, however, is considered a psychiatric disorder that is typified by a lack of energy for common behaviors, a low mood state, and the lack of pleasure. The onset of clinical depression can be gradual, immediate, a relatively moderate low mood state to an extremely low mood state, and can exist for a single brief period. It can appear episodically or can manifest over very long periods of time. It can emerge in childhood or late in life. Behavioral manifestations can look different in children, often resembling anger and frustration rather than lethargy and sadness as is common to the more pedestrian understanding. Because mood states are reflected, and in some cases caused by chemical changes in the brain, increasingly medications along with verbal therapy have become the common recommendations for treating clinical depression. In milder forms of depression, counseling still remains a frequent treatment approach.

While many claims have been made about the general psychological health of gifted students, research has consistently shown that they are equally healthy, if not more so, on several indicators ranging from physical health to mental health (Neihart, 1999). Like the general population, students with gifts and talents are subject to depression. Given the well-documented history of the relatively positive levels of mental health, what do we know about causes of depression among gifted children? The precursors to depression among the general population, including relationship difficulties, death within families and friends, family difficulties and so forth, exist for gifted students as well. However, in addition to these influences, researchers have documented that students with gifts and talents have unique experiences because they are gifted that add stress to their lives (Coleman & Cross, 2005). These stressors create concerns about not being accepted, feeling different from other students, being ostracized, having limited social latitude and so on, merely because they are gifted. Because of these experiences, many gifted students engage in a series of social coping behaviors (Cross, Coleman & Terhaar-Yonkers, 1991; Cross & Swiatek, in press) that can cause additional feelings of sadness or depression. In essence, while research has consistently shown that students with gifts and talents are at least as psychologically healthy as the general population, the research on social coping suggests that these students may actually have more opportunities for being depressed due to exogenous characteristics (their individual characteristics interacting with differing contexts; Cross, 1997).

Additional Readings

SENG Articles:

Other Journal Articles:

Non-journal Articles:

National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) Webpage:


Coleman, L. J., & Cross, T.L. (2005). Being Gifted in School: An Introduction to Development, Guidance and Teaching (2nd ed.). Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.

Cross, T. L. (1997). Psychological and social aspects of educating gifted students. The Peabody Journal of Education, 72(3&4),181-201.

Cross, T. L., Coleman, L. J., & Terhaar-Yonkers, M. (1991). The social cognition of gifted adolescents in schools: Managing the stigma of giftedness. Journal for the Education of the Gifted, 15, 44-55.

Cross, T.L., Swiatek, M.A. (in press). Social Coping Among Academically Gifted Adolescents in a Residential Setting: A Longitudinal Study. Gifted Child Quarterly.

Neihart, M. (1999). The impact of giftedness on psychological well-being: What does the empirical literature say? Roeper Review, 22, 10-17.


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