Published: November 15, 2021

Huang, Y. & Baxter, J. (2021). ‘Stressful Life Events, Social Support, and Depressive Symptoms in Adolescents: The Mediating Role of School Connectedness’, Life Course Centre Working Paper Series, 2021-23. Institute for Social Science Research, The University of Queensland.


Yanshu Huang and Janeen Baxter

Download: Life Course Centre Working Paper 2021-23

Non-technical summary:

Adolescence is a developmental period marked by sharp biological and social changes. Along with these shifts, young people also have increased risk of poorer mental health as they approach and experience adolescence. However, adolescents may draw up on social resources in their circles to help cope with changes in their mood as well as deal with life stressors overall. These social resources may include parents, friends, as well as their schools.

We use data from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC) to look at how different sources of social support can help adolescents aged 13 to 17 to cope with changes in their mental wellbeing. Additionally, we look at how social support can also act as a ‘buffer’ against additional life stressors happening among their families that may also lead to poorer mental health in adolescents.

Our findings suggest that social support from parents and connectedness with ones’ school is related to better mental health, overall. Surprisingly, support from friends worsens adolescents’ mental health during early to mid-adolescence. A possible explanation for this is that unlike parent support or school connectedness, which provide emotional support and esteem, adolescents’ friendships function to widen their social networks instead and therefore may not provide the same mental health benefits as other forms of support.

When we look at how social support may help adolescents cope with additional family life stressors, we find that adolescents who receive more support from their parents are ‘buffered’ from the negative impact of these increased life stressors. Finally, we also find that more family life stressors can also compromise how connected adolescent feel with their school, but these feelings of connectedness can still lead to better mental health. Together, our research suggests that parents and schools providing high levels of high-quality social support is important for helping adolescents maintain good mental wellbeing, both overall and in the face of stressful life events.