Teens In The Arts Found To Be More Depressed
November 21, 2012

Depression Found To Be Higher Among Kids Involved In The Arts

Connie K. Ho for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online

A new study from the American Psychological Association (APA) recently revealed that teens who are involved in the arts as after-school activities have a greater chance of feeling depressed or sad compared to other students who are not involved in these programs.

The researchers believe that this is the first study to examine the relationship between depressive symptoms and youth involvement in the arts. The study showed that females had a greater likelihood of participating in arts after schools as compared to males and, as a result, displayed higher rates of depression. The findings were recently published in the APA-affiliated journal Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts.

"This is not to say that depression is a necessary condition for either a teen or an adult to become an artist, nor are we showing that participating in the arts leads to mental illness," explained the study´s lead author Laura N. Young, a doctoral candidate at Boston College, in the prepared statement. "However, previous research has revealed higher rates of mental illness symptoms in adult artists. We were interested in whether this association is present earlier in development."

In the research project, the scientists observed U.S. teens´ participation in extracurricular activities during 2002, 2004, 2006, and 2008. The data was pooled from the U.S. Longitudinal Survey of Youth, where 2,482 students between the age of 15 and 16 provided answers. From the sample of study subjects, 1,238 were female, 27 percent were black, 19 percent was of Hispanic heritage, and 54 percent were considered non-Hispanic whites.

Survey participants completed a series of questions based on their activities. In particular, they were asked to describe their experiences in "lessons in music, art or drama, or practice of music, singing, drama, drawing/painting" as well as "going to sports lessons, playing sports or practicing any physical activity." The list of responses ranged from “none of the time” to “all of the time.”

In order to gauge a student´s level of depression, the teens also answered questions regarding feelings or issues related to depression. Some of these symptoms included difficulty focusing, feeling downcast, and having a poor appetite or lack of energy, as well as restlessness and sadness. Similar to the previous questions, the answers ranged from “none of the time” to “all of the time.”

After the surveys, the team of investigators compared the results of teens in after-school arts programs to teens who were involved in sports. The findings showed that teens who only participated in sports and no other activities were the least likely to feel depressed. Furthermore, there was no difference in the results of teens that played sports and participated in the arts as compared to teens that were involved in the arts but did not play sports. Based on these findings, the scientists believe that arts participation is more so related to depression then involvement in sports.

Furthermore, a theory proposed by the researchers to explain the connection between arts and depression is the idea that people involved in the arts display particular cognitive traits, such as soaking in more information from their environment. As a result of the high level of stimuli, individuals can feel distressed or stressed, which can also result in greater artistic or creative expression. Other personality traits like inwardness could also cause individuals to seek more solitary activities that could be linked to the arts rather than sports.

"When positive behaviors such as being involved in the arts are associated with symptoms of mental illness, it's essential that we understand why," continued Young in the statement. "Further research can address the question of whether potential psychological vulnerabilities can be transformed into strengths through the practice of the arts."