The Roles of Sex, Gender, and Coping in Adolescent Depression

Article excerpt

There is increasing evidence that female adolescents and adults are more likely than their male peers to become depressed, both clinically and subclinically (Baron & Campbell, 1993; Kashani et al., 1987; Petersen, Sarigiani, & Kennedy, 1991; Weissman, 1987). Further, the association between stress and depression has been found to be more prominent in adolescent girls than in adolescent boys (Ge et al., 1994; Rubin et al., 1992). Nolen-Hoeksema (1994) has suggested that one factor contributing to adolescent girls' increased vulnerability to depression is how they cope with stress. It may be that girls and boys tend to cope differently, and that the girls' coping styles place them more at risk for experiencing depression.

There is evidence in the coping literature that men are more likely to use problem-focused coping (thoughts/action initiated to deal directly with the stressor) and that women are more likely to use emotion-focused coping (thoughts/actions initiated to deal with one's emotions associated with the stressor) (Brems & Johnson, 1989; Stone & Neale, 1984). Problem-focused coping is related to lower levels of depressive symptoms, whereas emotion-focused coping is associated with higher degrees of depressive symptoms (Compas, Malcarne, & Fondacaro, 1988; Ebata & Moos, 1991).

Rumination and distraction are two types of emotion-focused coping. Nolen-Hoeksema (1994) proposed that women are more likely to engage in ruminative coping strategies than are men. Ruminating is thinking or worrying about a problem repeatedly in order to manage one's feelings associated with the stressor. This type of strategy is more likely to maintain depressive symptoms than the more active, emotionally distractive coping techniques that men tend to utilize, such as exercising.

In addition to these coping variables, the variable of gender (operationalized here as sex role) is of importance because several studies have found a negative relationship between masculinity and depression in adolescents (Allgood-Merten, Lewinsohn, & Hops, 1990; Wilson & Cairns, 1988). Further, Nolen-Hoeksema (1994) suggested that the ruminative and distractive coping response sets might be a result of socialization processes that contribute to gender stereotypes.

Hypotheses

A model was designed and tested through path analysis (see Figure 1). It proposed the following:

1. Biological sex predicts level of masculine and feminine traits, and to a small degree predicts depression (positively for adolescent girls and negatively for adolescent boys).

2. Masculinity is positively associated with problem-focused and distractive coping, and negatively related to ruminative coping.

3. Problem-focused and distractive coping relate negatively to degree of depressive symptoms, whereas ruminative coping relates positively to depression.

4. Masculinity is directly and negatively associated with depression to a relatively small degree, but not over and above the larger, indirect effect through coping; in fact, coping style is expected to mediate the relationship between masculinity and depression.

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Participants

A total of 246 adolescents, ranging in age from 14 to 18 years, participated in this study. All were students (9th through 12th grades) attending four public schools and one private girls' school in a metropolitan area.

Materials

The adolescents completed the Reynolds Adolescent Depression Scale (RADS; Reynolds, 1987) as a measure of depressive symptoms; the short form of the Bem Sex Role Inventory (BSRI; Bem, 1979), assessing degree of masculine and feminine traits, and one measure of coping, assessing emotion-focused, problem-focused, ruminative, and distractive coping with regard to general stressors. Since there are no measures that specifically assess these types of coping in adolescents with regard to general stressors, scales for these four styles of coping were devised from the long form of the Adolescent Coping Scale (ACS; Freydenberg & Lewis, 1993), which lists a total of 79 coping strategies. …