Youth with close friendships less likely to experience depression


Friendship attachment style during adolescence is linked to depressive symptoms for Africans Americans during the transition to young adulthood.

A recent publication from the Flint Adolescent Study describes how attachment style may influence depression for low-income, urban African American adolescents at high risk for both insecure attachment and depression.

Previous researchers have identified several types of friendship attachment styles. Individuals who form close trusting friendships are considered to have secure attachment. Others may be less likely to form these bonds. Youth with an insecure-avoidant attachment style experience discomfort and distrust of close relationships. This undermines connection. Youth with an insecure-resistant style anxiously pursue close relationships to assuage a strong fear of abandonment. Among these styles, securely attached youth are more likely to feel socially connected and to successfully regulate emotions, stress and conflict.

The study, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health examined attachment styles of 850 African American youth participating in the Flint Adolescent Study. Results indicated that  in comparison to adolescents with anxious or insecure attachments styles, urban African Americans who form close, trusting friendships with peers during adolescence experience less depression as they grow into young adulthood.

Cook and colleagues found that the majority of adolescents remained stable in their attachments style over time and adolescents with a stable-secure attachment style reported the lowest initial levels of depression.

One of the key findings for this study were for those youth who reported a change in their attachment style over time. For all youth in the sample, depressive symptoms decreased over time. This was even more pronounced for adolescents who reported a change in their attachment style. Thus suggesting that the ability to adapt one’s attachment style protects youth and young adults against depression. Protective effects held true even when adolescents made the extreme transition from a secure attachment style to an insecure one.

It may be the case that those youth who changed their attachment style did so as a coping response to challenging life events, such as the loss of key relationships. This surprising finding highlights that a change in attachment style is not only adaptive but may be psychologically protective as adolescents enter the young adult years.

The study emphasizes the fluid, adaptive nature of adolescent friendship attachment style and points to attachment styles as a potential focal point for mental health intervention.

Study citation: 

Cook, S. H., Heinze, J. E., Miller, A. L., & Zimmerman, M. A. (2016). Transitions in Friendship Attachment During Adolescence are Associated With Developmental Trajectories of Depression Through Adulthood. The Journal of Adolescent Health: Official Publication of the Society for Adolescent Medicine, 58(3), 260–266.