Sharing problems raises anxiety in teenaged girls, shows study

18 July, 2007:

Teenaged girls beware! Sharing each other’s problems may do you more harm than good, emotionally. A new study shows that friendships based on complaining about each other’s problems may raise anxiety levels among teenaged girls and potentially increase the risk of depression.

Researchers found that girls who bond by sharing their problems were more likely than boys to develop anxiety and depression as a result of their extended gripe sessions. They define co-rumination as excessively talking with another person about problems, including rehashing them and dwelling on the negative feelings associated with them. While this was a factor in strengthening close friendships for boys and girls, the researchers found that in girls it increased the symptoms of depression and anxiety, which in turn led to greater discussion of problems.

Amanda J Rose, associate professor of psychology at the University of Missouri Columbia, the United States, says: “These findings are interesting because girls’ intentions when discussing problems may be to give and seek positive support. However, these conversations appear to contribute to increased depression.”

The study has been published in the Journal of Developmental Psychology.

The six-month study involved 813 American girls and boys, aged 9, 11, 13 and 15, who responded to questionnaires on their friendships. Girls reported discussing problems with friends more than boys did, and said it helped them build close friendships.

The students were questioned about whom they considered their closest friends and what they most often discussed in their conversations.

The results showed that girls who talked excessively about their problems were more likely to report having high-quality close friends, but these girls were also more likely to have symptoms of anxiety or depression, which in turn led to more talking about problems and negative feelings.

At the same time, boys of the same age did not seem to suffer the same negative emotional effects of letting it all out.

Researchers say that sharing problems and dwelling on negative feelings may cause girls to think about problems in a way that is different from boys, and that is more closely linked to emotional problems.

According to Amanda J Rose, girls may be more likely than boys to take personal responsibility for their failures.

While previous studies have stressed that adults should worry about youths who are socially isolated, Dr Rose said that adolescents in seemingly supportive friendships may also be at risk of suffering depression and anxiety if the friendship is based on a pattern of dwelling on problems.

Kathryn Pugh, chief executive of the charity Young Minds, says that modern technology such as mobile phones and networking websites meant that young people could easily carry on discussions after school. Therefore, it is natural for adolescents, especially girls, to turn to their friends for advice and support.

“But, just because someone has good friends, it does not mean they will necessarily receive the proper support. If a problem is being dwelt upon excessively or to the exclusion of all other topics, it may be appropriate for adults to step in and try to help.”




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