Towards a better understanding of adolescent depression: the roles of relational victimization and emotional support

The onset of depression in many individuals can be traced back to adolescence. Up to one-third of 12- to 16-year-olds report “feeling depressed,” and clinical depression among adolescents is associated with numerous adverse consequences, including increased risk for recurrent depression, suicide, hospitalization and general maladjustment. Adolescent depression has been identified as a chronic, continuous disorder that is in need of increased research attention. The prevalence of depression increases dramatically as children transition into adolescence. This is also consistent with increases in relational aggression, such as gossiping, name calling, and social exclusion. Interestingly, striking gender differences in the rates of depression also emerge at this time: adolescent girls’ rates increase more rapidly than boys’ rates of depression, and depression remains more prevalent in women than men. Researchers have suggested that interpersonal orientation is one of the most consistent psychological differences between males and females, and that females may be more psychologically vulnerable to peer victimization because they view their strong emotional attachments with others as central to their self-concept. At the same time, however, aspects of interpersonal relationships may serve to protect girls’ emotional reactions to relational aggression. Tracy Desjardins is examining the effects of peer and parental emotional support on adolescents’ emotional reactions to peer victimization, investigating whether they may be contributors to gender differences in emotional maladjustment. Her primary goal is to help dismantle the precise mechanisms by which certain interpersonal risk factors interact to produce depression at differential rates in males and females. Desjardins’ findings will contribute to increased knowledge about the origins of adolescent depression. Ultimately, this work could lead to more targeted treatment interventions and prevention strategies that consider differential gender processes.