Having a large number of friends can reduce depression
A greater number of adolescent friends appear to be associated with a lower risk of depression in later years. This is especially true for women.
Friendships in adolescence protect against depression in adulthood. (Image: Christian Schwier / Stock.Adobe.com)
If people have a large group of friends in their youth, it seems to be linked to better protection against depression later in life, according to a new study involving researchers at Duke University and Michigan State University. The results were published in the English language journal “Journal of Health and Social Behavior”.
Where does the evaluated data come from?
The current study used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent and Adult Health, specifically data from social media, in which participants were asked to name up to five men and five girlfriends.
Effects of social relationships on mental health
Adolescence is a sensitive phase of early childhood, in which structural facets of social relationships can have lasting consequences on mental health, the researchers say. The current study looked at the effects friendships during adolescence can have on mental health and, in particular, on the risk of depression.
Less friends, more depression
Overall, the study results predict higher levels of depression from adolescence to adulthood for both men and women who reported having few friends as teenagers. However, the results differ between genders. Compared to boys, girls are exposed to additional risks that stem from how others perceive their social position during adolescence, the research team reports.
How did the depressive symptoms develop?
Participants were asked to rate how often they felt depressed. It turned out that depressive symptoms were more pronounced in adolescence, but then declined in early adulthood and then increased again in the early 1930s, the researchers say. Women between the ages of 18 and 26 showed a greater decrease in depressive symptoms, followed by a greater increase in their early 30s.
The data also shows that women with many friends the same age had more depressive symptoms by age twelve, but had fewer depressive symptoms as adults, according to the research team. However, the study also suggests that “the relationship between popularity and more severe depressive symptoms reverses with age, so that women who were more popular in their teens have fewer depressive symptoms in their twenties ( …) ”, explains study author Professor Molly Copeland in a press release from Michigan State University.
Effects of popularity in men
However, men do not show such a link between the popularity of young people and depressive symptoms. They just enjoyed having more friends in their youth.
More stress and tension in girls in their youth
Copeland believes that this gender difference suggests that the expectations and gender roles that lead to popularity create stress and tension in teenage girls that don’t apply to boys. Friendships between teenage girls can become more stressful for girls when the higher emotional intimacy in female friendships means that popularity creates higher emotional or psychological stress for girls, says the expert.
Psychosocial skills thanks to popularity
But the stress of popularity can give these girls some psychosocial skills that will benefit later in life in coping with higher education and new jobs. “Greater sociality can also contribute to a sense of belonging, which is psychologically important in adolescent development, as it puts adolescents on a path with fewer symptoms of depression,” adds Copeland. (as)
Author and source information
This text conforms to the requirements of specialized medical literature, medical directives and current studies and has been verified by health professionals.
Alejandra Morlett Paredes, Ellen E. Lee, Lisa Chik, Saumya Gupta, Barton W. Palmer et al .: Qualitative study of loneliness in a senior housing community: the importance of wisdom and other coping strategies adaptation, in Journal of Health and Social Behavior (published January 10, 2020), Journal of Health and Social Behavior Michigan State University: The Benefits of Friendship (published September 25, 2020), MSU
This article is provided for informational purposes only and should not be used for self-diagnosis or self-treatment. It cannot replace a visit to the doctor.