How Depression Affects Young People's Relationships

Youth with depression may be insecure or dissatisfied in relationships

teen couple
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The negative effects of depression on relationships involving children, teens or adults are well-established. In general, depressed children and adolescents report having less satisfying relationships and feel more insecure about their relationships.

Forming romantic relationships is an important developmental step for adolescents, as teen relationships teach important skills that aid future adult ones.

How Does Depression Affect Relationships?

Adolescents with high levels of depressive symptoms may lack problem-solving skills, resulting in difficulty resolving conflict in romantic relationships through early adulthood, according to a study published in The Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology in 2011.

Researchers investigated the depressive symptoms, problem-solving skills and conflict resolution behavior of 200 10th-grade students over a four-and-a-half year period. They suggest that depressive symptoms may interfere with the acquisition of problem-solving skills, which appear to be essential for future romantic relationships.

Additionally, common symptoms of depression, such as social withdrawal, feeling misunderstood or irritability, may decrease a child's desire to form relationships at all. Lack of relationships, of course, may deprive such youth of the problem-solving and conflict resolution skills that will serve them well in adulthood.

When It May Be Depression

Distress in a relationship has been identified as a precursor and consequence of childhood depression. Given this, parents of children or adolescents who show significant distress or difficulty in relationships should watch out for other signs and symptoms of depression, such as:

Even subsyndromal symptoms of depression are shown to negatively affect romantic relationships. Therefore, the early identification and treatment of even mild depressive symptoms in childhood could have important benefits for your child.

Wrapping Up

All children and adolescents will have ups and downs in their relationships, but if you feel like her relationship difficulties are significantly interfering with her daily functioning, it is worth talking to her pediatrician or mental heath provider to explore what's happening. On the other hand, depression may not be the cause of a child's bad relationship. Incompatibility or the fleeting nature of young love could be to blame as well. 

Sources:

Boris Birmaher, MD, David Brent, MD, et al.Practice Parameter for the Assessment and Treatment of Children and Adolescents With Depressive Disorders. Journal of American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. 46(11). November 2007. 1503-1526

Depression and Suicide in Children and Adolescents. A Report of the Surgeon General. Accessed: 02/14/2011. http://mentalhealth.about.com/library/sg/chapter3/blsec5.htm

Hana M. Vujeva, Wydol Furman. Depressive Symptoms and Romantic Relationship Qualities from Adolescence Through Emerging Adulthood: A Longitudinal Examination of Influences. The Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology. 40(1): 123-135.

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