Positive Family Relationships as an Adolescent Protect Against Adulthood Depression

The findings of a recent study published in JAMA Pediatrics suggest that positive adolescent family relationships are linked to better mental health from early adolescence to midlife.

In this study, researchers assessed data on 18,185 adolescent participants (8,952 male and 9,233 female) from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, which was a prospective cohort comprised of 20,745 adolescents in grades 7 to 12 and took place in five waves: wave one took place between January 3, 1994 and December 26, 1995; wave two took place between April 14 and September 9, 1996; wave three took place between April 2, 2001 and May 9, 2002; wave four took place between April 3, 2007 and February 1, 2009, and wave five took place between March 3, 2016 and May 8, 2017, when the study subjects were aged 32 to 42.

The study sample was a US representation of the total population sub-grouped by sex, race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and geography. Adolescent family cohesion and low parent-child conflict were the specified study exposures, and the key endpoint was stipulated as levels of depressive symptoms from the ages of 12 to 42. The main outcome was measured using propensity score-weighted growth curve models to evaluate depression levels in different sexes based on levels of positive family relationships as an adolescent.

The Importance of Family Cohesion

According to the results of the study, individuals who experienced positive family relationships as adolescents had notably lower levels of depressive symptoms from early adolescence to midlife than did those who experienced less positive adolescent family relationships, and this was observed among both males and females. The study authors wrote that: “For example, depressive symptoms were lower among those with high levels of family cohesion compared with those with low cohesion between 12 (1.26 lower CES-D score; 95% CI, 1.10-1.42) and 40 (0.78 lower CES-D score; 95% CI, 0.50-1.06) years of age among females and between 12 (0.72 lower CES-D score; 95% CI, 0.57-0.86) and 37 (0.21 lower CES-D score; 95% CI, 0.00-0.41) years of age among males.”

Moreover, the study showed that in depression symptoms correlated with positive adolescent family relationships were higher for females than males during the adolescent and early adulthood (CES-D score=−1.26; 95% CI, −1.42 to −1.10 for females and (CES-D score= −0.72; 95% CI, −0.86 to −0.57] for males at 12 years of age; low-high cohesion difference in mean (CES-D score= −0.61; 95% CI, −0.69 to −0.53) for females and (CES-D score= −0.40;95% CI, −0.48 to −0.31) for males at 20 years of age, at which point females and males subsequently benefited equally from positive adolescent relationships throughout young adulthood to midlife.

The study authors wrote in their conclusion that: “Interventions in early family life to foster healthy mental development throughout the life course appear to be important.”