Support Systems Are Vital in Preventing Teenage Depression

We learned via The Science Daily that new research from the University of Cambridge found that friendships and family support are highly important in helping prevent depression among teenagers. Moreover, they found that "teenagers who had grown up in a difficult family environment were more likely than their peers to be bullied at school". 

The teen years, or adolescence, is a major point in all of our lives. This is the time that teenagers begin to show signs of depression. According to study, "one of the major risk factors for depression in adolescence is childhood family adversity, such as poor parenting and lack of affection, emotional, physical or sexual abuse, family financial problems or the loss of a family member". The study also points out that another major risk factor for depression is "bullying by peers -- and the combined experience of childhood family adversity and peer bullying is associated with increased severity of depression symptoms".

Past studies have suggested that friendships and supportive families may help protect teens from depression if they have experienced bullying and childhood family adversity. However, no study has both examined the "complex interplay of early life adversity, bullying, family support and friendships on later adolescent depression."

The researchers studies almost 800 teenagers and used mathematical modeling to examine the impact of friendships and family support at age 14 on depressive symptoms and at age 17 in adolescents who had previously experienced childhood family adversity and primary school bullying.

"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," explains Dr Anne-Laura van Harmelen, the study's first author. "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."

"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."

The researchers found that boys who had been bullied were less likely than girls to develop strong friendships in adolescence, which the researchers suggest may be because boys experienced more severe bullying or were more sensitive to bullying. They also found that "supportive family or friends in early adolescence could help reduce depressive symptoms in later teenage years".

The study did not conclude from the results how social support influences later life mental health. However, the researchers suggest several possibilities, including that "supportive friends and family environments may help enhance children's ability to cope with adverse situations by improving their self-esteem and offering stress-relief and through helping them develop effective interpersonal skills".

It is important for children and teenagers to have strong support systems surrounding them in these vital years of physical and mental development. For expert advice, we suggest setting up an appointment with Child & Family Therapist Brigitte Knight or Psychotherapist Leah Chalofsky