Teen optimism beats back health risks
January 11th, 2011
04:29 PM ET

Teen optimism beats back health risks

Older children who have an optimistic viewpoint are less likely to suffer health risks including emotional problems, substance abuse and antisocial behaviors, according to new research from Australia.

Optimism was especially protective against depression, according to the study in the journal Pediatrics.

Previous research has linked optimism to success in education, career and politics, the study explains, adding that optimism in later life has been tied to good health and lower rates of death, depression, and heart disease. The authors found that there is "such an association with healthy lifestyle to begin early in life, the cumulative effects might be profound.”

Australian researchers studied 5,634 Australian teens for three years, comparing how their levels of optimism impacted behaviors such as emotions, substance use and antisocial behaviors.

The children, aged 12 to 14, completed questionnaires at three intervals during a three-year period. They answered questions about their levels of depression, anxiety, substance use, and antisocial behavior– which included physical fights, driving a car without permission, running away from home, being suspended from school and writing graffiti in a public space. Students were also asked to rate their levels of optimistic thinking, their interpersonal skills, including relationship building, conflict resolution, providing emotional support and asserting themselves. Some questions rated how they coped with negative situations such as financial problems, serious illness with friends or family, injury, the breakup of a relationship, suspension from school and problems with law enforcement.

The researchers discovered that feelings of optimism had an especially protective association against depression, and girls who reported very low levels of optimism were twice as likely as boys to be depressed. As boys and girls reported more optimism, depression risk fell, but boys had lower risk for depression at each level of optimism, compared with girls.

The researchers also analyzed whether optimism can be used as a tool to predict whether teens will exhibit future emotional problems, antisocial behaviour or have substance abuse problems based on their level of optimism. Teens who showed higher levels of optimistic thinking initially tended to show lower levels of depression, anxiety, substance use and antisocial behavior through all three phases of testing.

The authors theorized that “without the protective effect of higher levels of optimism, incidence rates for depressive symptoms might have been 32% higher than those observed.” Optimism protected only modestly against anxiety, substance use, and antisocial behavior.

The researchers conclude that their findings provide “support for promoting an optimistic thinking style in adolescents,” yet they acknowledge that optimism alone cannot prevent mental health and behavioral problems in teens, and psychological and social factors must be part of the recipe for keeping teens mentally and socially healthy.

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soundoff (7 Responses)
  1. orksnbeast

    Optimism was especially protective against depression.
    That is total baloney. It is like saying that the cure for insomnia is sleep.

    January 12, 2011 at 09:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. rogueness

    @orksnbeast – Insomnia is a function of sleep, or lack thereof. Given that your believe sleep is a simple cure for insomnia; how would you approach helping people recover from sleep preventing issues? That like saying "Sleep exists, so your cured!"

    With this logic, would you also say to people experiencing depression "Optimism exists, therefore your cured!"? No, we would instead want to promote optimism as just one mean of addressing depression symptoms and behaviors related to such.

    January 17, 2011 at 15:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. conflictresolutiontools

    Optimism and the ability to deal with conflict are surface behaviors that reflect how a person processes problems at an unconscious level. While many people learn empowering ways of dealing with problems while they are children, it is never too late to learn to deal effectively with the challenges of life (including depression.) A quality conflict resolution training program can introduce a person to new ways of dealing with problems and quickly improve their relationships. I talk more about this at my web site http://conflictresolutiontools.com/conflict-resolution-articles/conflict-resolution-workshops/

    January 18, 2011 at 10:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Beeftips and Boogers

    Teens, especially college students are optimistic because they are inexperienced in the ways of the world (naive) or they are just plain stupid.

    Example you say? The election of ObaManure. Perfect example of teen and young adult stupidity gone out of control.

    January 18, 2011 at 10:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Marlee

    This is both street smart and ientlilgnet.

    December 27, 2011 at 02:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. wsgorul

    lcs91R uyyxzuprrazh

    December 28, 2011 at 05:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. ieirigmw

    WrYG9g colmmumuimva

    December 29, 2011 at 05:14 | Report abuse | Reply

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.