Adolescents who suffer from depression are more likely to have problems with peer relationships, including being bullied at school, according to a new study.
And while it is often assumed that being bullied leads to psychological problems, such as depression, the new study does not support that direction of influence, researchers said.
“Often the assumption is that problematic peer relationships drive depression. We found that depression symptoms predicted negative peer relationships,” said Karen Kochel, Ph.D., Arizona State University School of Social and Family Dynamics assistant research professor. “We examined the issue from both directions but found no evidence to suggest that peer relationships forecasted depression among this school-based sample of adolescents.”
The new research, published in the journal Child Development, found that being depressed in fourth grade predicted bullying in fifth grade and difficulty with peer acceptance in sixth grade.
The researchers examined data from 486 children from fourth to sixth grade. Parents, teachers, peers, and students provided information through yearly surveys. Data was collected as part of a large-scale study that began in 1992 and continued for nearly two decades.
Teachers and parents were asked to identify classic signs of depression, such as crying a lot or a lack of energy. They defined peer victimization as bullying that was manifested physically, verbally, or relationally, such as hitting someone, saying mean things, talking behind someone’s back, or picking on someone.
Research shows that having positive peer relationships is crucial for adapting to certain aspects of life, such as scholastic achievement and functioning in a healthy manner psychologically, she added.
“If adolescent depression forecasts peer relationship problems, then recognizing depression is very important at this particular age,” she said. “This is especially true given that social adjustment in adolescence appears to have implications for functioning throughout an individual’s lifetime.”
School may be the best place to address signs of depression since students typically start spending more time with their friends and less with their parents as they become adolescents, according to researchers.
“We studied peer relationships within the school context. Parents tend not to observe these relationships,” Kochel said. “Because depression has the potential to undermine the maturation of key developmental skills, such as establishing healthy peer relationships, it’s important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of adolescent depression.”
The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health.
Source: Arizona State University