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Having trusted sources for health information can reduce risk of depression in teens

Researchers say young people who are more informed have better mental health

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Photo (c) Mixmike - Getty Images
A new study conducted by researchers from Penn State explored factors that could affect the likelihood of teens developing depression

According to their findings, young people are less likely to experience depressive symptoms when they have go-to, trusted sources to access health-related information. Gathering information and feeling more knowledgeable can go a long way towards improving kids’ mental health. 

“This study was actually inspired by my students, after several of them came to me really stressed out,” said researcher Bu Zhong. “I know firsthand how widespread depression can be among students, so I was interested in what kind of health information people shared with the young people and if it can help them cope with depression.” 

Relying on trusted sources

The researchers surveyed 310 students about their overall mental health and had them complete a questionnaire about how they typically took in health-related information and what kinds of sources they viewed as credible.

One of the biggest takeaways from this study is that teens who made an effort to stay informed about their health -- and utilized sources that they trusted for that information -- were less likely to experience depression. Having a trusted parent or teacher that kids trusted for the right information led to improved mental health outcomes.

When it came to getting health information from media sources, the results were a little more mixed. While the participants tended to trust social media sources less when it came delivering correct information, these sites actually did have a positive effect on mental health. On the flip side, TV news and newspapers were seen as more reliable resources but delivered fewer benefits to mental health.

“The kids weren’t purposefully being misleading when they said they didn’t trust information online, even though that information was ultimately linked with lower depression,” explained Zhong. “They were probably told by their parents and teachers to be wary of information found online or on social media. But our research found that online content has a strong impact on their health behavior and depression mitigation strategies, which are not found in the traditional media content.” 

Improving mental health

The researchers’ main goal with this study was to uncover new ways for young people to deal with their mental health. Finding the right treatment can be a difficult, ongoing process for many teens, and these findings provide another potential course of action for managing depression symptoms. 

“Our research is interested in providing long-term health outcomes, not just temporary relief,” Zhong said. “So we’re looking for anything in addition to drugs, in addition to therapy, that can help people with their depression, and this offers another possibility. It may not be able to remove all the stressors causing teen depression, but it’s possible we could equip adolescents with better health information gathering skills to help battle depression.” 

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