Stand by me: Close friendships appear to counteract genetic vulnerability to depression in girls, but not boys

Posted on May 22, 2013

Publication of US psychiatry's updated diagnostic code has provoked renewed debate in recent weeks over the extent to which mental illness ought to be framed as a psychosocial or a biological problem. The answer of course is that it is both. A new Canadian study captures this interplay, showing how close friendships appear to mitigate the risk for girls whose genes mean they are more vulnerable than average to depression.

Here's the main result. Genetic vulnerability to depression in girls was less likely to manifest if they had at least one close friend. Stated differently, the apparent protective effect of having at least one close friend was magnified in girls who were genetically vulnerable to the condition. This means that for girls there was an interplay between genetic risk and the protective effect of friendship. This was not the case for boys. Friendships did appear to protect boys from depression, but this was not related in any way to their genetic vulnerability. Perhaps, the researchers surmised, there is a gender difference because "girls tend to rely more on social relationships as a source of self-definition and self-validation, and their friendships are also characterised by greater intimacy, self-disclosure, empathy and emotional support."

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Source material from British Psychological Society

Mental Health News