Mentoring and youth depressive symptoms: New associations with mentoring relationship quality.

Browne, R., Jarjoura, G. R., Keller, T. E., Tanyu, M., Herrera, C., & Schwartz, S. E. O. (2022). Mentoring and depressive symptoms of youth: Examining prospective and interactive associations with mentoring relationship quality. American Journal of Community Psychology.

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest: 

  • Depression is associated with a variety of issues that can negatively affect young people.
  • A majority of adolescents with depression don’t receive treatment.
  • Although youth mentoring has the potential to assist in addressing this problem, there’s a lack of research that assesses how mentorship engagement relates to youth depression symptoms.
  • This study explored the relationship between depressive symptoms and mentoring relationship quality.
  • Mean youth depression symptoms declined after engaging in the mentorship program.
  • Several youth-reported aspects of relationship quality correlated with shifts in youth depression symptoms.
  • Baseline depression symptoms negatively predicted relationship quality indicators.
  • Baseline depression symptoms affected the correlation between several relationship quality indicators and follow-up depression symptoms.
  • Mentoring programs are encouraged to provide training and support to their mentors so they [the mentors] can work with youth with depression symptoms and/or other mental health issues

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

A significant body of research has demonstrated that mentoring relationships support positive youth development. The quality of the mentoring relationship has been identified as a predictor of positive youth outcomes. However, limited research has examined how engagement in a mentoring program may be related to youth depressive symptoms specifically. The current study utilized a sample of 2003 youth participating in mentoring programs across the country (Mage = 12.32, SD = 1.42, 55.1% female) from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds (39.1% Black, 23.6% White, 22.1% Hispanic, 3.3% Native American or Alaskan Native, .4% Asian or Pacific Islander, 1.8% other, and 9.7% Multi-Ethnic) to investigate associations between youth depressive symptoms and mentoring relationship quality. Results revealed that: (1) mean depressive symptoms decreased after participation in a mentoring program; (2) several, but not all, relationship quality indicators predicted change in depressive symptoms; (3) baseline levels of depressive symptoms negatively predicted indicators of relationship quality; and (4) associations between several relationship quality indicators and follow-up depressive symptoms differed by baseline levels of depressive symptoms. These findings highlight the potential benefits of mentoring programs to youth and the need to provide mentors with support around building relationships with youth, especially those experiencing depressive symptoms.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

As one of the few studies examining associations between formal mentoring relationships and youth depressive symptoms, this study makes several contributions to the literature. First, with a larger and more diverse sample of youth mentoring programs, this study found similar levels of depressive symptoms (with approximately one in four youth showing particularly high levels) to those observed in a smaller sample of mentoring programs recruiting youth facing a number of environmental and individual challenges (Herrera et al., 2013). These congruent findings indicate the need for mentoring researchers and practitioners to attend to the role of depressive symptoms among mentees—even in programs that do not explicitly target the recruitment of youth with such symptoms. Encouragingly, results showed a significant decrease in youth depressive symptoms over the course of the year during which they participated in a formal mentoring program.

While previous research has found mentor-reported relationship quality to be associated with positive youth outcomes, our results indicated that only youth-reported aspects of relationship quality were significantly associated with changes in depressive symptoms over time. Both relational health and youth identifying their mentor as a special adult were associated with a decrease in depressive symptoms. This finding suggests the youth’s experience of the mentoring relationship, rather than the mentor’s, is associated with a change in youth depressive symptoms. Notably, the mentor as a special adult and the relational health measures used in the current study tap into aspects of socioemotional development as highlighted in Rhodes’ (2005) theoretical model of youth mentoring. These measures reflect, in part, the extent to which youth feel they can talk to their mentor about their feelings and problems and feel both encouraged and supported by their mentors. These processes may be particularly impactful for youth struggling with symptoms of depression as previous research demonstrated associations between deficits in relationships and symptoms of depression (Oppenheimer & Hankin, 2011). Moreover, a significant body of literature has identified a relationship between feelings of loneliness and adolescent depression (Erzen & Çikrikci, 2018). Thus, youth who felt listened to and supported by their mentors may be more likely to report reduced symptoms of depression. Finally, this finding is also consistent with previous research highlighting how relationships with nonparental adults can influence depressive symptoms in youth (Greenberger et al., 1998).

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