A recent study published in Child Development suggests that teens suffering from depression are at a greater risk of being bullied due to difficulties in establishing friendships amongst their peers.

Karen Kochel, an author of the study and an assistant professor in ASU’s School of Social and Family Dynamics, stated: “Often the assumption is that problematic peer relationships drive depression. We found that depression symptoms predicted negative peer relationships. We examined the issue from both directions but found no evidence to suggest that peer relationships forecasted depression among this school-based sample of adolescents.”

The research shows that children in 4th grade who were depressed ended up being subjected to bullying in 5th grade, and had a hard time “fitting in” in 6th grade. To discover their findings, the authors collected data from 486 adolescents who were in the 4th – 6th grade. The information was collected through self-assesment surveys taken each year by adolescents, their peers, parents, and teachers.The study began in 1992 and kept going almost 20 years.

Kochel explains:

Adolescence is the time when we see depressive symptoms escalate, particularly in girls.

The researchers believe this may be because of the start of puberty or the social pressures put on adolescence, for example, romantic relationships and pressure to be “popular”.

During the study, parents and teachers of the adolescents were asked if they understood the main signs of depression, for example, low energy and crying more than normal. The parents and teachers told the authors that they believed bullying to be defined as verbal abuse and physical abuse, such as, talking badly about another person or hitting them.

Kochel continues:

Teachers, administrators and parents need to be aware of the signs and symptoms of depression and the possibility that depression is a risk factor for problematic peer relations.

She also states that it is extremely important for adolescents to have concrete relationships with their peers because this eventually helps them to adapt to other aspects of life, such as success in school and a healthy psychological mind.

In conclusion, Kochel states:

If adolescent depression forecasts peer relationship problems, then recognizing depression is very important at this particular age. This is especially true given that social adjustment in adolescence appears to have implications for functioning throughout an individual’s lifetime.

We studied peer relationships within the school context. Parents tend not to observe these relationships. Because depression has the potential to undermine the maturation of key development skills, such as establishing healthy peer relationships, it’s important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of adolescent depression.”

The authors note that the smartest place to analyze signs and symptoms of depression is at the adolescent’s school, because this is a time in their lives when they start to spend most of their time with friends, and not so much time with their parents. In addition, Most U.S states now have laws against bullying.

National Institutes of Health funded this study.