Teens with Support from Friends and Family Can Avoid Experiencing Depression

By Efusdorf (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The importance of family and friends in helping prevent depression in teenagers has been highlighted in research from the University of Cambridge. The study was published in the journal PLOS ONE, and it also found that teens who had grown up in a difficult family environment were more likely to be bullied at school than their peers.

The Study

Adolescence is a key time in a youngster’s development, and it is a period of time when some teens begin to develop the signs of major depression. One of the major risk factors for depression during childhood is family adversity, such as poor parenting and lack of affection, and sexual, physical or emotional abuse, family financial difficulties or the loss of a close family member. Another major reason for depression in teens is being bullied by peers, and the combined experience of childhood family adversity and peer bullying is associated with an increase in the severity of depression.

Studies suggest that having a stable family and strong friendships may help protect an adolescent against depression, if they experience peer bullying and childhood family adversity. However, there’s been no concurrent study that examined the complex interplay of early life hardship, maltreatment, friendships and family support on later adolescent depression.

Researchers from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge studied almost 1,000 teens (532 males and 449 females), and used a mathematical model to find out the effect of friendships and family support at age 14 on depression symptoms at age 17 in adolescents who had previously experienced childhood family adversity and bullying in primary school.

Dr. Anne-Laura van Harmelen, the study’s first author stated, “Teenage years can be difficult for everyone, but we found that this is particularly the case for those teens who have had a difficult family environment. Adolescents who had experienced negative family environments are more likely to be bullied at school, and less likely to receive family support in adolescence. We also found that children who were bullied in primary school were less likely to have supportive friendships in adolescence.”

She went on to further state, “In fact, we found a strong relationship between having a negative family environment and being bullied at primary school. This puts teens at a double disadvantage and means they are more likely to experience more severe symptoms of depression in their late teens.”

Male teens who have been bullied were less likely than female teens to develop strong friendships in adolescence, which the team thinks may be due to boys experiencing more severe bullying or were more sensitive to bullying.

Conclusion to the Study

The researchers also discovered that having sympathetic friends and family members in early adolescence could help diminish depression symptoms in later teen years. It’s not understood how having social support in the late teen year’s effects mental health later in life. However, the team believes it may be due to several possibilities, including that caring friends and family may help enhance a child’s ability to cope with adverse situations through improving their self-esteem and offering stress-relief and through helping them develop effective interpersonal skills.

 
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