Friendships and Family Support Reduce Subsequent Depressive Symptoms in At-risk Adolescents

Anne-Laura van Harmelen, Jenny Gibson, Michelle St Clair, Matt Owens, Jeannette Brodbeck, Valerie Dunn, Gemma Lewis, Timothy Croudace, Peter B. Jones, Rogier A. Kievit, Ian M. Goodyer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Citations (Scopus)
178 Downloads (Pure)

Abstract

Background: Early life stress (ELS) consists of child family adversities (CFA: negative experiences that happened within the family environment) and/or peer bullying. ELS plays an important role in the development of adolescent depressive symptoms and clinical disorders. Identifying factors that may reduce depressive symptoms in adolescents with ELS may have important public mental health implications.

Methods: We used structural equation modelling and examined the impact of adolescent friendships and/or family support at age 14 on depressive symptoms at age 17 in adolescents exposed to ELS before age 11. To this end, we used structural equation modelling in a community sample of 771 adolescents (322 boys and 477 girls) from a 3 year longitudinal study. Significant paths in the model were followed-up to test whether social support mediated or moderated the association between ELS and depressive symptoms at age 17.

Results: We found that adolescent social support in adolescence is negatively associated with subsequent depressive symptoms in boys and girls exposed to ELS. Specifically, we found evidence for two mediational pathways: In the first pathway family support mediated the link between CFA and depressive symptoms at age 17. Specifically, CFA was negatively associated with adolescent family support at age 14, which in turn was negatively associated with depressive symptoms at age 17. In the second pathway we found that adolescent friendships mediated the path between peer bullying and depressive symptoms. Specifically, relational bullying was negatively associated with adolescent friendships at age 14, which in turn were negatively associated with depressive symptoms at age 17. In contrast, we did not find a moderating effect of friendships and family support on the association between CFA and depressive symptoms.

Conclusions: Friendships and/or family support in adolescence mediate the relationship between ELS and late adolescent depressive symptoms in boys and girls. Therefore, enhancing affiliate relationships and positive family environments may benefit the mental health of vulnerable youth that have experienced CFA and/or primary school bullying.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0153715
Pages (from-to)1-20
Number of pages20
JournalPLoS ONE
Volume11
Issue number5
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 4 May 2016

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