Study explores links between violence exposure, friendship and depression in teens

Closeup of mom and daughter embracing on a park bench

A new study led by PRC faculty member, Justin Heinze examined the exposure to violence during adolescence and how that may increase the risk of depression and anxiety symptoms in early adulthood. Researchers also took into account the individual’s friendship attachment during adolescence and whether it influences the risk of the depression and anxiety symptoms in adulthood.

Secure friendship attachment is the ability to form trusting and healthy relationships with others. Friendship attachment during adolescence is important for psychosocial development across the life course. Friendship attachment can be particularly helpful in learning coping strategies, such as peer support, to deal with stressors.

The researchers drew data from the Flint Adolescent Study, a longitudinal study of urban high school students. A sample of 676 ninth-graders from the four largest public schools in Flint, Michigan were analyzed. Overall, they found strong positive associations between exposure to violence during adolescence and self-reported higher levels of depression and anxiety symptoms during emerging adulthood.

The findings also suggest that secure friendship attachment to peers in adolescence serve as a protective factor against depression and anxiety within the context of exposure to violence during adolescence.

This study provides evidence that secure attachment to friends during adulthood may be helpful in protecting against increasing trajectories of anxiety and depression for adolescents exposed to violence.