Adolescent Depression: Links to Academic Coping and Perceived Autonomy Support

Article excerpt

One major focus of adolescent research concerns their experience with depression. According to Peterson et al. (1993), a major impetus for this work is that depression stands out among psychological problems of adolescence for its impact on adjustment during the adolescent years and its long-term effects on adult functioning. An extensively applied theoretical notion in research concerning adolescent functioning suggests that the adolescent operates as part of multiple social units (e.g., the family, community, peer group, and academic setting). Moreover, it is very likely that an individual's perceptions of his/her experiences in these units provide an important perspective for understanding adolescent development. The primary purpose of this project is to examine the relation between depression and high school students' self reports of academic coping and perceptions of autonomy support from significant individuals (i.e., their parents and peers).

To date, few projects have examined the link between depression and academic coping (i.e., a student's ability to deal with school demands). Ehrenberg, Cox, and Koopman (1990) reported that self efficacy correlated the strongest with depression (among the variables included in their study). Although coping was not directly assessed in their project, self efficacy is generally considered a very critical component of one's ability to cope. Specifically, when one's self efficacy is low, it may be more difficult to cope with the existing demands then when one's self efficacy is high. Thus, although not directly assessed in Ehrenberg, Cox, and Koopman's (1990) project, a relation between coping and depression is certainly a possibility.

On the other hand, a number of projects have demonstrated the importance of parent autonomy support and involvement with respect to adolescent development, in general, and school achievement, in particular (see Melby, 1993; Rosenthal & Feldman, 1991). Specifically, when parents provide encouragement (e.g., developing and implementing a well-defined set of expected behaviors in a non-conflictual manner) students will work to achieve those standards especially when the parents are involved in the youth's academic experience. In fact, Connell, Spencer, and Aber (1994) reported that family support and involvement were highly significant predictors of school-related outcomes among African-American students.

In work on adolescent depression, a number of researchers have found that positive parent-child relationships tends to shield the adolescent from depression. For example, feeling distant from mothers and fathers (implicitly suggesting the lack of autonomy support and involvement) places female adolescents at a greater risk for depression (Gouws & Huffman, 1994). Similarly, conflictual relations with parents (again, likely indicating a lack of autonomy support) are associated with a higher incidence of depression. Taken together, results such as these suggests that a strong and positive relationship between the parents and the adolescent reduces the likelihood that he/she will experience depression (Herman-Stahl, 1994). Further, these results suggest that a relation between depression and parental autonomy support may exist.

With respect to the peer group, numerous projects have reported that well-liked and popular students tend to do well academically (Dusek, 1996). Although autonomy support from peers was not directly assessed in these projects, implicitly well-liked students have support and involvement from their peers. In that sense, a relation similar to the parent-adolescent relation regarding support and overall positive development may exist. Dusek (1996) suggests that the peer group can provide an environment that is conducive to academic success in which an adolescent is expected to abide by certain norms. Assuming that the individual follows the norms, the group can and will provide support which, in turn, enhances performance (Dusek, 1996). …