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Erik Erikson's Theory About Adolescent Depression

by
author image Renee Miller
Renee Miller began writing professionally in 2008, contributing to websites and the "Community Press" newspaper. She is co-founder of On Fiction Writing, a website for writers. Miller holds a diploma in social services from Clarke College in Belleville, Ontario.
Erik Erikson's Theory About Adolescent Depression
That adolescent smile may be hiding depression. Photo Credit Leslie Achtymichuk/iStock/Getty Images

According to Erik Erikson, adolescents must resolve two major crises in order to mature into healthy, well-adjusted, happy adults. Erikson’s psychosocial theory of human covers birth to death, and asserts that one must complete specific struggles in order to be ready to move onto the next phase of development. Teens struggling with depression, according to this theory, may not be successfully navigating one of two important crises.

Erikson's Theory of Psychosocial Development

Erikson theorized that every person moves through eight stages or crises of psychosocial development from birth to death. Between infancy and 18 months of age, babies struggle with trust versus mistrust. The second crisis, which Erickson called autonomy versus shame and doubt, occurs between 2 and 3 years old. During the preschool years, children move on to the third crisis, referred to as initiative versus guilt. Between the ages of 6 and 11 years, children struggle with industry versus inferiority, and work toward feeling competent in their abilities. Adolescents struggle with identity versus identity confusion and then intimacy versus isolation. In the seventh stage, which Erikson calls generativity versus stagnation; adults between the ages of 40 and 65 must resolve the crises of work versus parenthood. In the final stage, adults over the age of 65 face ego integrity versus despair. Erikson’s theory is that every person must successfully complete each stage in order to move onto the next and become a healthy, well-adjusted adult.

First Adolescent Crisis

During Erikson’s first adolescent crisis, identity versus identity confusion, teens face the task of carving out their individual identity while still fitting in with peers. According to Seven Counties Services Inc., Erikson’s theory was that successful teens have "a clear understanding of their individual identity and can easily share this 'self' with others." This creates a confident person who is able to form healthy relationships while maintaining his individuality. Erikson theorized that teens who do not successfully navigate this crisis are confused about who they are and either become isolated socially, or develop an overblown sense of superiority. Teens that become stuck at this age are usually emotionally immature as adults.

Second Adolescent Crisis

The second adolescent crisis, which typically occurs between late adolescence and early adulthood, is intimacy versus isolation. This crisis requires teens to understand that the nature of intimacy is about the balanced giving and receiving of love and support. During this psychosocial stage of development, Erikson theorized that successful teens can establish and maintain close friendships and healthy relationships outside their immediate family. Teens that are unable to resolve this crisis become distant and socially isolated. Seven Counties Services Inc. reports that they can also become dependent or needy, and tend to feel emotionally vulnerable. Failure to overcome this crisis causes emotional development to stop at this point, creating isolated and lonely adults.

Psychosocial Development and Adolescent Depression

Adolescents are trying to answer the question of “Who am I?” This process establishes several identities for your teen, including sexual, social and occupational, and this can cause considerable stress. Depression can occur when these stresses, immaturity and the inability to bond combine to affect a teen’s ability to reason and cope with daily life. Erikson’s theory predicts that when adolescents are unable to successfully answer the questions of identity during this stage of development, they may experience feelings of inadequacy and despair, which can eventually lead to depression.

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