Building Friendships Fights Depression

Summary
Earlier studies have shown that having friends during childhood and the early teen years can protect one from depression later in life. This study was devised to explore if risk factors such as “social withdrawal” affect a child’s developmental psyche in a snowballing, or rapidly increasing pattern of depression later in life. Results in this study showed that being avoided or excluded by peers during early adolescence could lead to depression later. In contrast, having friends could protect against such an eventuality, even in teenagers who were initially avoided or excluded.

Introduction
Studies on the developmental psychology of children have strived to explore the negative and positive consequences of being a social outcast at school and of having friends, respectively. The two types of isolation called avoidance and exclusion may have negative effects on the child and may lead to depression and other psychological issues later in life. Research has also shown that being avoided and being excluded are two different problems, although both lead to social isolation of the child. “This study aimed to look into the effects of such negative influences on a child’s developmental psyche and understand the process of harm that these events cause in a child later in life.”

Methodology
•    First, researchers defined the two types of social withdrawal. “In one form the child avoids peers, typically because the child is shy, prefers solitude or is sensitive to negative interactions. In the other form, peers exclude the child, typically because the child is aggressive, immature or has poor social skills.”
•    The study involved three phases over three years of school. In the first phase, 130 girls and 101 boys of grades 3, 4 and 5 were used in the study. The second phase was seven months later involving 130 girls and 105 boys. The third phase of the study took place 17 months after the second phase with 126 girls and 105 boys.
•    In each phase the children were given two questionnaires. The first one involved naming two best friends among their classmates. The number of reciprocal relationships was noted.
•    The second questionnaire involved role-play stories where the children had to assign roles to their classmates using labels such as “troublemaker,” “cannot get others to listen” and “often left out” as measures of exclusion; and “shy,” “rather play alone than with others” and “feelings get hurt easily” as measures of avoidance. The label “sad’ was used to stand for depression.

Results
•    Results showed that children who were avoided and excluded during phase one had the highest levels of simultaneous depression. Over the next two years of the study, these friendless children were seen to have progressively elevated levels of depressive tendencies.
•    On the other hand, children who were befriended after the first phase, showed a trend of decreasing depression.
•    The main results of the study showed that a socially withdrawn child is at risk for higher levels of depression than their peers. This danger is diminished by making friends.

Next steps
This study utilized the assessment of the participants at three points in time. This is said to be the minimum to assess a trend of emerging depression or the protective effects of friendships. Researchers believe that more phases closer to each other could detect subtle trends even better. Furthermore, detection of depression using more stringent tools could be used in future studies to quantify the effect of social withdrawal in a child.

Conclusion
This study tried to find the trends of ill effects associated with events and experiences of avoidance and exclusion among school children.  Since these are common phenomena and have been known to lead to depression later in life, the study is of profound interest. The results showed that children who suffered from social isolation could develop increasing depression that can snowball within a short time.  Children who were initially isolated could stall the process of rising depression by developing friendships. The study shows how important it is to examine how types of peer experience can affect the outcomes of a child’s level of depression over time and cites friendship as a possible solution.

For More Information:
The Snowball Effect: Friendship Moderates Escalations in Depressed Affect among Avoidant and Excluded Children
Publication Journal: Development & Psychopathology, October 2010
By William M Bukowski, Brett Laursen; Concordia University, Montreal, Canada and Florida Atlantic University, Florida

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.
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