How Family Interactions Influence Depression in Adolescents

Depression often first manifests during adolescence. Many studies have looked at the risk factors for depression, but few have examined the fluctuations in depressive symptoms over time in teens. The trajectory of symptom severity and nuances in affect can provide valuable information about depression in teens. Lisa B. Sheeber of the Oregon Research Institute recently conducted a study that examined how dysphoria, which describes overall mood, and anger increased or decreased during a stressful event.

For her study, Sheeber recruited 69 teens without depression and 72 with depression and recorded them while they interacted with their parents. The teens engaged in negative and positive discussions, and their levels of anger, emotion, and dysphoric behaviors were monitored. Sheeber found that the teens with depression had significant increases in dysphoric behavior while they were engaged in tense, negative conversations. This was not exhibited by the nondepressed teens. In fact, their moods remained relatively stable regardless of whether the discussions were heated or calm. Sheeber did not find an increase in feelings or displays of anger in either group.

“The family environment plays an important role in adolescents’ emotional upbringing, providing the context in which both adaptive and maladaptive emotional functioning is often learned,” Sheeber said. In fact, it can serve as an incubator for positive or negative reactions and behaviors. When teens are exposed to positive conflict resolution and effective and adaptive coping techniques, they often will model those behaviors in their own lives. In this study, the depressed teens may come from families with elevated emotional volatility that could be partly responsible for a teen’s depression. Likewise, the depression could be the cause of the stress at home. It would be valuable for future efforts to look at this dynamic more thoroughly and to examine the particular elements of these interactions and how they influence dysphoria, particularly in teens with depression.

Sheeber, Lisa B., Peter Kuppens, Joann Wu Shortt, Lynn Fainsilber Katz, Betsy Davis, and Nicholas B. Allen. Depression is associated with the escalation of adolescents’ dysphoric behavior during interactions with parents. Emotion 12.5 (2012): 913-18. Print.

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  • Darlene


    November 5th, 2012 at 3:11 PM

    I am so scared for my own daughter right now that finding this could not have come at a more perfect time. She is so young but already going through so many things that I never had to go through, like having serious body image issues to the point that I am afraid it will develop into a full blown eating disorder. I have always had these same kind of insecurities but I don’t think that mine developed until later and I have been a little better equipped to mhandle some of it. But my daughter is just 12 and I wonder if I have passed my own issues and insecurities onto her. You can imagine how this makes me feel as a mom, like I have failed her insuch an important way. I am at a loss because she does not want to ever talk about it and I feel like she needs to but I am so afraid that pressing her to talk openly will only push her further and further away. I would love to have any advice from anyone.

  • T.U


    November 5th, 2012 at 11:30 PM

    Adolescence is a tough time for every individual. Anxiety and depression at that stage can be really bad and bring a person down. In fact, I suffered due to the same reason in my teen years.

    But to be somewhat insulated by it is great and one thing that can help is the family environment and members. Teens in some families are just less vulnerable to an Jett and depression and that is an invaluable asset. We should all try to replicate the same for the teens in our own homes!

  • hark


    November 6th, 2012 at 5:01 AM

    Your children always have to know deep down inside that they are loved no matter what.
    Even when things are difficult and they are depressed and you are at the end of your rope, I would hope that you have still done so many things in the past to show your kids that you will still love them no matter what that they will come out of a difficult situation on the other side knowing that they have not failed or disappointed you.

  • Stella


    November 6th, 2012 at 9:16 AM

    Adolescence is such a tricky age. It was as hard to go through as a parent as it was as a teenager. Although my children were never diagnosed with depression, they often reacted and acted similarly to those whose children had been. How can you tell the difference between a depressed and nondepressed teenager? What makes an outburst a result of depression vs. a normal display of rebellion?

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