Depressed teens not shunned

Students with depression find friendship among those with similar dispositions

ATLANTA — Depressed teens skirt the social margins of high school mainly because they choose to form friendships with the relatively few peers who struggle with comparably bleak moods, according to a study presented August 15 by David Schaefer of Arizona State University in Tempe.

Social withdrawal and avoidance of other people by depressed teens prompts their selectivity in choosing friends, Schaefer said at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association.

“These students aren’t avoided by others at school because they’re depressed, and their depression is not a product of having poor-quality friendships,” he asserted.

Nondepressed teens gravitated toward friendships with peers who shared their sunnier dispositions, Schaefer added.

Schaefer and Arizona State colleague Olga Kornienko analyzed data — previously gathered by other researchers — from a longitudinal study of 3,702 teens at 16 public and private schools across the country. Schaefer and Kornienko used a mathematical model to assess the likelihood of friendships between individuals with roughly equal mood levels, as determined from interviews of teens, parents and teachers.

Previous research suggests that friendships protect against depression. But the new findings indicate that depression can also spur friendships, at least among teens, Schaefer said. 

Bruce Bower

Bruce Bower has written about the behavioral sciences for Science News since 1984. He writes about psychology, anthropology, archaeology and mental health issues.

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