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Teens Involved in Arts Tend to Experience Depressive Symptoms: Study

Update Date: Nov 21, 2012 08:35 AM EST

A new study suggests that teenagers who participate in arts such as music, drama or painting are more likely to be depressed when compared to students who do not ehgage in such activities.

Researchers say that this is the first time a study has discovered a link between youngsters' casual involvement in arts with depressive symptoms, Medical Xpress reported.

"This is not to say that depression is a necessary condition for either a teen or an adult to become an artist, nor are we showing that participating in the arts leads to mental illness," said lead author Laura N. Young, MA, of Boston College.

"However, previous research has revealed higher rates of mental illness symptoms in adult artists. We were interested in whether this association is present earlier in development."

While girls were more likely to participate in arts and reported slightly higher rates of depression than boys, the findings of the study revealed that both boys and girls who participated in arts reported depressive symptoms when compared to others.

Also, it was found that teenagers who participated in sports were least likely to face depressive symptoms. However, there wasn't any apparent difference in depressive symptoms between those who involved in both arts and sports, and those participating in arts but not sports.

This clearly suggested that while arts could be linked to depressive symptoms, this wasn't the case for sports.

For the study, the researchers looked at 2,482 American teenagers' involvement in extracurricular activities using data from the U.S. Longitudinal Survey of Youth. The students were aged 15 to 16 and were from different races and ethnic backgrounds.

The students were quizzed with questions pertaining to their participation in "lessons in music, art or drama, or practice of music, singing, drama, drawing/painting" and "going to sports lessons, playing sports or practicing any physical activity" after school, the report said.

The survey questionnaire also asked the teens about their experience of depressive symptoms, such as poor appetite, difficulty concentrating, etc.

According to a theory presented by the authors, the reason why arts is linked to depressive symptoms could be that artistic people may have certain cognitive traits, like being more observant and taking in higher-than-average levels of information from their surroundings. This trait, while resulting in better creativity and artistic expression, could also lead to general distress and depression.

"When positive behaviors such as being involved in the arts are associated with symptoms of mental illness, it's essential that we understand why," said Young. "Further research can address the question of whether potential psychological vulnerabilities can be transformed into strengths through the practice of the arts."

The article was published online in APA's journal Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts.

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