Mental health disorders and adolescent peer relationships

Emily Long*, Maria Gardani, Mark McCann, Helen Sweeting, Mark Tranmer, Laurence Moore

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Rationale: Mental health disorders often arise during adolescence, with disruptive behavior disorders and anxiety disorders among the most common. Given the salience of peer relationships during adolescence, and research suggesting that mental health disorders negatively impact social functioning, this study uses novel methodology from social network analysis to uncover the social processes linking disruptive behavior disorders and anxiety disorders with adolescent friendships. In particular, the study focuses on peer withdrawal, peer popularity, and peer homophily in relation to both disorders. 

Methods: Data come from 15-year old students in four Scottish secondary schools (N = 602). Diagnoses of disruptive behavior disorders and anxiety disorders were produced using the Diagnostic Interview Schedule for Children, and peer relationship data were obtained through a friendship nomination survey. Exponential random graph models were used to estimate the probability of peer withdrawal, peer popularity, and peer homophily based on each disorder. 

Results: Results demonstrated that adolescents with disruptive behavior disorders were more popular than their peers without disruptive behavior disorders (OR: 1.47, CI: 1.20, 1.87). Friendship was also more likely between two adolescents both with or both without disruptive behavior disorders (OR: 1.26, CI: 1.07, 1.47), demonstrating peer homophily. There was no evidence that anxiety disorders were related to adolescent peer relationships. 

Conclusions: Findings from this study suggest that disruptive behavior disorders may be socially rewarded (e.g., peer popularity) and socially clustered (e.g., homophily), whereas anxiety disorders show no such trends. Thus, intervention efforts must account for the peer social status that may be gained from engaging in disruptive behavior during this developmental period. Further, given that similarity in DBD status is associated with an increased likelihood of friendship, adolescents are likely to be surrounded by peers who reinforce their behaviors.

Original languageEnglish
Article number112973
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Early online date8 Apr 2020
Publication statusPublished - May 2020

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • adolescents
  • anxiety disorders
  • disruptive behaviour disorders
  • mental health
  • peers
  • social networks


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