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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Common stressful life events and difficulties are associated with mental health symptoms and substance use in young adolescents

Nancy CP Low1*, Erika Dugas2, Erin O’Loughlin2, Daniel Rodriguez3, Gisele Contreras24, Michael Chaiton5 and Jennifer O’Loughlin246

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Psychiatry, McGill University, 1033 Pine Avenue West, Montréal, QC, H3A 1A1, Canada

2 Centre de Recherche du Centre Hospitalier de l'Université de Montréal, 3875 Saint Urbain, Montréal, QC, H2W 1V1, Canada

3 Department of Psychiatry, University of Pennsylvania, 3535 Market Street, Suite 4100, Philadelphia, PA, 19104, USA

4 Department of Social and Preventive Medicine, University of Montréal, 3875 Saint Urbain, Montréal, QC, H2W 1V1, Canada

5 Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, University of Toronto, 33 Russell Street, Toronto, ON, M5S 2S1, Canada

6 Institut national de santé publique du Québec, 190 Crémazie Blvd. East, Montréal, QC, H2P 1E2, Canada

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BMC Psychiatry 2012, 12:116  doi:10.1186/1471-244X-12-116

Published: 17 August 2012

Abstract

Background

Stressful life events are associated with mood disorders in adults in clinical settings. Less described in the literature is the association between common life stressors and a wide range of psychopathology in young adolescents. This study uses a large non-clinical sample of young adolescents to describe the associations among worry or stress about common life events/difficulties, mental health and substance use.

Methods

Data on lifetime stress or worry about common life events/difficulties (i.e., romantic breakups, family disruption, interpersonal difficulties, and personal stress (health, weight, school work)), symptoms of depression, conduct disorder symptoms, and substance use were collected from 1025 grade 7 students (mean age 12.9 years; 45% male). The association between each source of stress and each mental health and substance use indicator was modeled in separate logistic regression analyses.

Results

The proportion of adolescents reporting worry or stress ranged from 7% for new family to 53% for schoolwork. Romantic breakup stress was statistically significantly associated with all the mental health and substance use indicators except illicit drug use. Family disruption was statistically significantly associated with depression symptoms, marijuana use, and cigarette use. Interpersonal difficulties stress was statistically significantly associated with depression symptoms. All sources of personal stress were statistically significantly related to depression symptoms. In addition, health-related stress was inversely related to binge drinking.

Conclusion

Young adolescents may benefit from learning positive coping skills to manage worry or stress about common stressors and in particular, worry or stress related to romantic breakups. Appropriate management of mental health symptoms and substance use related to common stressful life events and difficulties may help reduce emerging psychopathology.

Keywords:
Adolescence; Stress, Mental health; Substances; Depression; Anxiety