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Unplanned Events in Romance Boosts Girls' Mental Illness Risk

Update Date: Apr 15, 2014 06:25 PM EDT

Getting dumped may increase the risk of mental illness in adolescent girls, according to a new study.

"I found that girls' risk of severe depression, thoughts of suicide, and suicide attempt increase the more their relationships diverge from what they imagined," lead researcher Brian Soller, an assistant professor of sociology and a senior fellow of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Center for Health Policy at the University of New Mexico, said in a news release.

"Conversely, I found no evidence that romantic relationship inauthenticity - which captures the extent to which relationships unfold in ways that are inconsistent with how adolescents think or feel they should - contributes to poor mental health among boys."

The latest study involved more than 5,300 high school students from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. Researchers assessed the mental health consequences of mismatches between adolescents' ideal and actual relationships. They measured relationship inauthenticity by comparing how participants described their ideal relationship in an initial interview with how their first relationship after the interview actually played out.

Researchers had participants keep cards describing events they would engage in within an ideal relationship, and indicate the order in which the events would occur.

Participants repeated the exercise a year later and indicated which events took place within their relationship, and then provided the order in which the events transpired.

The study revealed that relationship inauthenticity increased the risk of mental health problems for girls, but not for boys.

"Romantic relationships are particularly important components of girls' identities and are, therefore, strongly related to how they feel about themselves - good or bad. As a result, relationships that diverge from what girls envision for themselves are especially damaging to their emotional well-being," Soller said.

"Boys may be more likely to build their identities around sports or other extracurricular activities, so this could be why they are not affected by relationship inauthenticity," he added.

"Helping girls build their identities around things other than romantic relationships may mitigate the effects of relationship inauthenticity on their mental health," Soller concluded.

The findings were published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.

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