The National Institutes of Health has already declared routine stress can lead to a more serious health problem, like depression. Now, researchers from Temple University in Philadelphia have found this effect is exacerbated among teens, particularly young girls, dealing with interpersonal stress (usually a result of social events and romantic relationships).
Adolescence in and of itself is stressful, but even more so when adolescents ruminate on that stress. Rumination, as defined by the Association for Psychological Science, is a style of thinking that makes people vulnerable to depression, a “'cognitive vulnerability’ that can be used to predict which individuals are likely to experience a depressive episode in the future, even if they’ve never had a depressive episode before.” Think about it: When you spend a lot of time thinking about events and aspects of a relationship you can’t change, the last thing you're bound to feel is happy (which is relevant at any age).
Knowing frequent stress sparks rumination, study researchers reviewed the information of nearly 400 adolescents participating in a separate, ongoing longitudinal study having to do with cognitive vulnerability and depression. In that study, adolescent boys and girls completed evaluations and assessments having to do with their cognitive styles, depressive symptoms, even sex. Teens who had reported feeling higher levels of interpersonal stress showed higher levels of negative cognitive style and rumination. These same teens also experienced more depressive symptoms during follow-up assessments.
“These findings draw our focus to the important role of stress as a potential causal factor in the development of vulnerabilities to depression...and could change the way that we target risk for adolescent depression,” Jessica Hamilton, lead study author, told PsychCentral. “Parents, educators, and clinicians should understand that girls’ greater exposure to interpersonal stressors places them at risk for vulnerability to depression and ultimately, depression itself."
The truth is, both teen girls and boys need help managing their stress. Not only does it harm their mental health, but it can lead to genetic changes in adulthood. A study from Johns Hopkins University found stress hormones can affect the brain's physiology, while prior research has shown dopamine levels are different in patients which schizophrenia, depression, and mood disorders. Intervention and sports programs, as well as apps, are now all available for teens (and their parents) to take advantage of.
As far as ruminating young girls are concerned, Hamilton said the next step for her and her team is to figure out why they experience more interpersonal stress in the first place, whether it's specific to their relationships or societal expectaions.
Source: Hamilton J, Stange J, Abramson L, Alloy L. Stress and the Development of Cognitive Vulnerabilities to Depression Explain Sex Differences in Depressive Symptoms During Adolescence. Clinical Psychological Science. 2014.