Teens who pinpoint emotions better at avoiding depression

By Tauren Dyson

June 28 (UPI) -- When a young person pinpoints their emotional problem, they're more likely to resolve it, a new study says.

That concept is known as negative emotion differentiation, or NED, which allows a person to sort out and identify various negative emotions, according to a study published Thursday in Emotion. For a really young person, a NED is relatively high, then it sinks to its lowest point during adolescence, before bouncing back up during adulthood.


"Adolescents who use more granular terms such as 'I feel annoyed,' or 'I feel frustrated,' or 'I feel ashamed' -- instead of simply saying 'I feel bad'-- are better protected against developing increased depressive symptoms after experiencing a stressful life event," Lisa Starr, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Rochester and study lead author, said in a news release.

People with low NED scores can only use general terms like "bad" or "upset" to sum up their feelings. This vague way of identifying negative emotions prevents a person from devising coping mechanisms to help control those feelings.

Depression and low NED are connected to one another, according to past studies. However, no research has established low NED as a precursor to depression, leaving researchers to wonder which comes first.


For the study, the researchers evaluated 233 teens with an average age approaching 16 for depression. More than half of them were female.

Over seven days, the teens reported their emotions four times a day. After a year and a half, the researchers looked at the longitudinal outcomes by interviewing the 193 teens who remained in the study.

They found teens with low NED are more likely to feel symptoms of depression after going through a stressful situation. On the other hand, teens with high NED can manage their emotions better which helps them to avoid stress that could turn into depression.

This is important because more than 23 percent of high school teens have considered suicide, according to one study.

"Basically you need to know the way you feel, in order to change the way you feel," Starr said. "I believe that NED could be modifiable, and I think it's something that could be directly addressed with treatment protocols that target NED."

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