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Positive family relationships linked with lower levels of depressive symptoms

Positive family relationships during adolescence appeared to be associated with lower levels of depressive symptoms from adolescence to midlife in this observational study of about 18,000 adolescents followed up until they were 32 to 42 years old.

Photo by Ricardo Moura from Unsplash.com

How are adolescent family relationships associated with trajectories of depressive symptoms from adolescence into midlife for women and men?

This was the question asked by a study – “Association of Positive Family Relationships With Mental Health Trajectories From Adolescence To Midlife” by Ping Chen, PhD and Kathleen Mullan Harris, PhD – published by JAMA Pediatrics, with the findings suggesting an association of early intervention in family relationships during adolescence with better mental health into adulthood and midlife.

The study analyzed data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, which used a multistage, stratified school-based design to select a prospective cohort of 20 745 adolescents in grades 7 to 12 from January 3, 1994, to December 26, 1995 (wave 1). These respondents were followed up during four additional waves from April 14 to September 9, 1996 (wave 2); April 2, 2001, to May 9, 2002 (wave 3); April 3, 2007, to February 1, 2009 (wave 4); and March 3, 2016, to May 8, 2017 (sample 1, wave 5), when the cohort was aged 32 to 42 years.

The study sample of 8,952 male adolescents and 9,233 female adolescents that were analyzed was a US national representation of all population subgroups by sex, race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and geography.

Levels of depressive symptoms (Center for Epidemiologic Studies–Depression Scale [CES-D]) from ages 12 to 42 years were then used to estimate propensity score–weighted growth curve models to assess sex differences in trajectories of depression by levels of positive adolescent family relationships.

A total of 18,185 individuals (mean [SD] age at wave 1, 15.42 [0.12] years; 9233 [50.8%] female) participated in the study.

The study found that females and males who experienced positive adolescent family relationships had “significantly lower levels of depressive symptoms from early adolescence to midlife than did those who experienced less positive adolescent family relationships.”

For example, depressive symptoms were lower among those with high levels of family cohesion compared with those with low cohesion between 12 (1.26 lower CES-D score; 95% CI, 1.10-1.42) and 40 (0.78 lower CES-D score; 95% CI, 0.50-1.06) years of age among females and between 12 (0.72 lower CES-D score; 95% CI, 0.57-0.86) and 37 (0.21 lower CES-D score; 95% CI, 0.00-0.41) years of age among males.

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The study also found that the reduction in depressive symptoms associated with positive adolescent family relationships was greater for females than males during the adolescent and early adulthood years (ie, early 20s) (eg, low-high cohesion difference in mean CES-D score, −1.26 [95% CI, −1.42 to −1.10] for females and −0.72 [95% CI, −0.86 to −0.57] for males at 12 years of age; low-high cohesion difference in mean CES-D score, −0.61 [95% CI, −0.69 to −0.53] for females and −0.40 [95% CI, −0.48 to −0.31] for males at 20 years of age), after which females and males benefited equally from positive adolescent relationships throughout young adulthood to midlife.

As per the authors, “The findings suggest that positive adolescent family relationships are associated with better mental health among females and males from early adolescence to midlife. Interventions in early family life to foster healthy mental development throughout the life course appear to be important.”

This is noteworthy for the LGBTQIA community because other studies highlight the relevance of family support to LGBTQIA people. An earlier study released in July, for instance, showed “that derisive parenting fosters dysregulated anger in adolescent children. Dysregulated anger is indicative of difficulties regulating emotion, which typically result in negative emotions, verbal and physical aggression, and hostility. Increases in dysregulated anger, in turn, place adolescents at greater risk for bullying and victimization, and for becoming bully-victims (bullies who also are victimized by other bullies).”

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