Physical Symptoms of Stress, Depression and Suicidal Ideation in High School Students

By Herman, Sandra L.; Lester, David | Adolescence, Fall 1994 | Go to article overview

Physical Symptoms of Stress, Depression and Suicidal Ideation in High School Students


Herman, Sandra L., Lester, David, Adolescence


There are many theories as to the etiology of psychosomatic disorders. The somatic-weakness theory proposes that each person's body has genetically determined weak systems which break down when the person is under stress. The specific-attitudes theory proposes that particular childhood experiences arouse specific psychological conflicts and that the symptoms reflect these conflicts. For example, hypertension may be related to the person's attitude that he or she must continually be on guard and prepared to deal with threats of danger (Grace & Graham, 1952). Often personality traits are associated with psychosomatic disorders. For example, hypertensive patients have been described as hostile but unable to express anger in a constructive way (Zax & Cowen, 1972).

It is possible that psychosomatic stress symptoms are adaptive in that they lead the person to be less preoccupied with their psychological conflicts, and worry about physical ailments instead. The present study of teenagers sought to answer two questions: (1) Are those with psychosomatic stress symptoms more depressed or less depressed than those without such symptoms? and (2) Does the presence of psychosomatic stress symptoms increase preoccupation with suicide or decrease such preoccupation?

METHOD

A questionnaire was completed anonymously by 52 male and 45 female 10th- and 11th-grade high school students containing the Beck Depression Inventory (Beck et al., 1961), a belief in locus of control scale (Rotter, 1966), and a 37-item symptom checklist (Goldberg, 1978). The depression inventory contains one item concerning current suicidal ideation, and the students were also asked whether they had ever thought about, threatened or attempted suicide. On the symptom checklist, respondents indicated whether they suffered from the symptom never, occasionally, frequently, or constantly.

RESULTS AND DISCUSSION

The results of a multiple regression analysis using sex, age, depression score and locus of control score to predict each symptom is shown in Table 1. …

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