Positive Childhood Experiences Tied to Lower Risk of Anxiety and Depression in Teens: Study

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Positive experiences are associated with improved among teenagers, leading to a decreased risk of depression and anxiety, a new study has revealed. Conversely, adverse experiences could heighten the risk of depression, anxiety, and other significant health concerns.

The study headed by Hasina Samji from Simon Fraser University, Canada, made the conclusions after surveying more than 8,800 students from January to March 2022 during the fifth wave of the pandemic, a time that included the highest number of daily COVID-19 case counts.

The participants were Grade 11 students in British Columbia schools. They were asked to recollect their number of positive and adverse experiences till the age of 18. Additionally, the students were asked to assess the severity of their depression and anxiety symptoms and rate their overall mental well-being and life satisfaction.

The results showed that adults who experienced four or more adverse childhood experiences are four times more likely to experience depression and low life satisfaction. They are three times more at risk of anxiety and 30 times more likely to attempt suicide than people with no adverse childhood experiences.

“Adolescents with no adverse childhood experiences (ACE) had significantly better mental health and well-being than those with one or more ACE. Having six or more positive childhood experiences (PCE) was associated with better mental health and well-being in adolescents with and without ACEs. PCEs significantly moderated the association between ACEs and depression. Effect sizes were larger for PCEs than ACEs in relation to depression, mental well-being, and life satisfaction,” the researchers wrote in the study published in the journal Child Abuse & Neglect.

“We can't prevent adversity for all young people. We know adversity leads to so many poor outcomes across a whole host of domains, whether it's infectious diseases, or substance use, or obesity, or cardiac disease. When you look at people who have been exposed to four or more adverse childhood experiences, versus fewer or zero adverse experiences—they are at higher risk for almost every poor health outcome,” Samji said.

“There is an urgent need to “bring back the village” post-pandemic to support teens and foster a sense of community belonging for young people. As a health-care system, we're often very reactive. Young people tell us that we wait for them to be in crisis before we provide the supports that they need. I really wanted to go upstream and think about what kind of individual level supports, but also structural and systemic supports can we provide earlier,” Samji added.

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