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The role of chronic interpersonal stress and its interactions with episodic stressors and gender upon depression and anxiety in adolescents

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Although chronic stress has been shown to be significantly associated with depression, this relationship has not received adequate attention, particularly in adolescent samples. One gap lies in the examination of whether particular domains of chronic interpersonal stress are uniquely related to risk for depression. Furthermore, the degree to which chronic interpersonal stress is associated with increased risk for anxiety outcomes is largely unknown. The present study had four objectives. First, the project examined the associations between particular domains of chronic interpersonal stress (e.g., close friendships, social group, romantic relationships, and family relationships) with depression and anxiety outcomes. Second, this study examined whether positive relationships in one interpersonal domain buffered against the deleterious effects of negative relationships in another domain. Third, this study explored whether positive peer or family relationships buffered the negative impact of episodic stressors. Fourth, this project examined whether gender moderated the relationships between stress and depression and anxiety. A sample of 486 adolescents completed a life stress interview, psychiatric diagnostic assessment, and symptom questionnaires at two assessments approximately 1 year apart. Higher levels of chronic stress in close friendships, social group, and family relationships all prospectively predicted major depressive episodes during follow-up. Importantly, only social group was a significant predictor beyond baseline symptoms and the other domains of chronic interpersonal stress. Lower quality of aggregated peer relationships prospectively predicted anxiety disorder onset, although no individual domain of chronic interpersonal stress was a significant predictor. In prospective analyses of depression and anxiety symptoms, social group contributed small, but significant variance. Cross-sectional analyses of depressive symptoms revealed that family relationships were a significant unique predictor of symptoms at follow-up beyond baseline symptom levels and other chronic stress domains. Interactions between chronic stress domains as well as between chronic and episodic stress yielded minimal evidence of buffering. Finally, although women were more likely to experience major depression and anxiety during follow-up, no significant gender differences in reactivity to stress were found. Methodological limitations that may have contributed to many of these null findings are discussed. Future studies should incorporate chronic stress into models of risk for psychopathology in adolescence.

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  • 09/19/2018
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