When an adolescent struggles with anxiety and depression symptoms, but their friend does not, it may be bad news for that friendship. The emotions and behaviors associated with anxiety and depression are referred to as internalizing symptoms. Unlike externalizing symptoms, which include aggression, internalizing symptoms have to do with fearful, worried, nervous, and self-conscious feelings.
A recent study in the Journal of Research on Adolescence assessed the relationship between these internalizing symptoms, or emotions, that a young individual experiences, and the strength of their friendships. Previous research found associations between these emotions and unstable friendships. Expanding on this, Guimond and colleagues considered two distinct ideas about how negative emotions might predict the end of adolescent friendships in this study of seventh graders followed over time.
One idea explores the level of stress on a friendship when one adolescent in the relationship has anxiety or depression. When one friend is struggling with their mental health and self-worth, the friendship may dissolve; a tense friendship can also feed into the negative emotions, exacerbating them. But the results of this study did not provide much support for this concept, indicating that something else may be at play in predicting friendship dissolution.
Two friends who experience and anxiety- and depression-related symptoms to similar degrees may have more solid friendships than those who do not match emotionally.
The second concept the researchers assessed involves compatibility. Two friends who experience and anxiety- and depression-related symptoms to similar degrees may have more solid friendships than those who do not match emotionally. This concept was more strongly supported by the study findings; the seventh-grade friends who had differing levels of internalizing symptoms were more likely to break up as time passed. Further, boys were more likely to end their friendships if one of them found it more difficult to be assertive than the other over time.
In a report last year, researchers explored how having close friendships compared to having large friend groups, and how each influenced young adults’ wellness. They found that youth who preferred having a few close-knit friends were more likely to have a healthy sense of self-worth, with lower anxiety and depression. But as Guimond and colleagues make clear, it’s not always easy to keep up good friendships. Still, these close relationships play a key role in social networks both in adolescence and adulthood, and reflect well on one’s emotional wellbeing.
Feature image: Luke Ellis-Craven on Unsplash, used for illustrative purposes only.