Unstable Relationships Raise Teen Depression Risk
> 12/1/2009 8:44:19 PM

Emotionally vulnerable adolescents almost always become insecure adults. But new research finds that even the earliest childhood experiences and the subsequent ways in which we develop attachments to others can shape our demeanor and determine the risk of developing depression and other mental health issues later in life.


Researchers at three Canadian universities conducted a study involving nearly 400 Canadian high schoolers who completed detailed questionnaires concerning physical and emotional pain that posed questions about their personal attachments and relationships, their mental health histories, and the frequency and intensity of their pains. “Insecure” subjects were those who showed patterns of developing “fearful” or “preoccupied” attachments to others that began in childhood: they did not have stable, respectful relationships with peers and adults, and they displayed a corresponding lack of self-confidence as they aged.


The surveys found that these "insecure" teens do not only face greater rates of mental illness; they also report more physical pains such as severe headaches, stomach problems and joint pains. There appears to be a major psychological component to this finding: researchers note that subjects labeled insecure tended to fixate on and even exaggerate their physical symptoms. This negativity then fed pre-existing depression, which again created a heightened sensitivity to all forms of discomfort. The self-defeating circle appears complete.


The underlying factor in this equation: secure personal relationships during childhood. Those who reported stable relationships with parents, caregivers, and siblings were simply less likely to experience the difficulties of mental illness, chronic physical pain and deep personal insecurity - the kind that concerns not only self-perception but the way individuals relate to others and the bonds they form.


Researchers also theorized that these insecure individuals might - whether consciously or not - exaggerate their pains in an attempt to gain attention and empathy from others because they don't know how to receive it otherwise. A lack of stable personal attachments in childhood leads teens to view the world as dangerous and threatening, leaves them less confident about their place within it, and heightens the risks they face.

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