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How positive bonds with adults provide a buffer against depression

Children with at least one supportive adult relationship had lower risks of depression, anxiety, and stress in adulthood

Caring adult bonds during childhood are linked to better mental health in adulthood, new study shows. (Pexels)

By Team Lounge

LAST PUBLISHED 19.01.2024  |  04:30 PM IST

Positive relationships with parents and other adults during childhood are linked to better mental health in adulthood, regardless of difficult childhood experiences, a new study shows.

The study, led by researchers from Columbia University, focused on marginalised youth to show the importance of having adult connections as a resilience factor against mental disorders. The findings showed that children with at least one supportive adult relationship had lower risks of depression, anxiety, and stress in adulthood, the university’s press statement revealed.

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For the study, the researchers analysed data from 2,000 participants in the Boricua Youth Study (BYS), a longitudinal study that followed three generations of families for 20 years. According to the statement, all participants in BYS were of Puerto Rican descent, about half originally residing in the island of Puerto Rico and others residing in the South Bronx, New York. 

The researchers examined for adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, such as physical or abuse and neglect, at three points during childhood. They also measured sociocultural factors associated with resilience including social relationships. The findings, published in JAMA Psychiatry, showed that measures of social relationships, apart from peer relationships, were linked to less depression and anxiety as well as less perceived stress in young adulthood.

Interestingly, family religiosity, often considered to be protective, was linked to more perceived stress among young adults who had experienced high ACEs.

In this study, we wanted to acknowledge that resilience cannot be reduced to individual attributes that one may be born with, study author Cristine Duarte said in the statement. “Resilience is a process. To engage in this process, children and caregivers need access to resources in their environment that foster strong, responsive relationships and meaningful experiences."

Previous studies have also shown that parents’ mental health can significantly impact that of children. For instance, a 2021 study, published in PLoS One, showed that children who live with a parent who has depression are more likely to develop depression and do not achieve educational milestones.

The researchers of the new study highlighted the importance of helping parents who want to form positive relationships with children through parenting classes and family therapy. 

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