Teen Mental Health IS Family Mental Health

Teen health

Teen Mental Health IS Family Mental Health

The emotional environment of the family has long been thought crucial to adolescent development. Parents, in particular, are essential during the teen years for providing guidance and support that fosters the successful transition from childhood to adulthood.

A recent study published in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience reminds us that teens are not only influenced by their parent’s behavior, but are also attuned to parent’s emotional states, especially negative emotions. This unconscious awareness of a parent’s negative emotions can influence teens’ risk-taking behaviors and also shape the way their brains respond to risky situations.

Authors Yang and colleagues found that parental depression contributes to greater brain activity in areas linked to risk-taking in adolescents, likely leading to more risk-taking and rule-breaking behaviors. While previous research has found associations between clinically depressed parents and their teenagers’ risk-taking, the new study is the first to find corresponding changes in the adolescents’ brains.

Teen Mental Health Research and Outcomes

The researchers followed a group of 23 adolescents, 15 to 17 years old, with cognitive testing and brain imaging at the beginning and end of the 18-month study. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), the researchers measured changes in blood oxygen levels in the brain while the study subjects clicked a button to inflate a computerized balloon. The goal was to inflate the balloon as much as possible without popping it. Designed to distinguish risk from risk-averse behavior, more clicks earned the teens a greater monetary reward, but if it popped, they earned nothing. The researchers also collected information on the adolescents’ rule-breaking behaviors, such as sneaking out without parental permission, substance abuse, and partying.

They found that adolescents whose parents had greater depressive symptoms increased their risk-taking over the course of the study. Researchers also saw changes in how the teens’ brains responded to risk taking. fMRI imaging showed increases over time in activation in the ventral striatum, a key brain region involved in risk-taking, that has also been linked in some studies to depression.

These new findings add to a better understanding of the relationship between parental depression and adolescent behavioral health. And reminds us all that teens are living in a family environment. Improving mental health might need to be a team effort for the family, and not just for the teen.

Authored by: Kiara Moore, LCSW

Source: Yang Qu, Andrew J. Fuligni, Adriana Galvan, Matthew D. Lieberman, Eva H. Telzer. (2016). Links Between Parental Depression and Longitudinal Changes in Youths’ Neural Sensitivity to Rewards. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience. Retrieved from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/05/160510213333.htm