Original Research

Adolescent attachment, family functioning and depressive symptoms

Nishola Rawatlal, Wendy Kliewer, Basil J Pillay
South African Journal of Psychiatry | Vol 21, No 3 | a672 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajpsychiatry.v21i3.672 | © 2015 Nishola Rawatlal, Wendy Kliewer, Basil J Pillay | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 19 August 2014 | Published: 01 August 2015

About the author(s)

Nishola Rawatlal, Department of Behavioural Medicine, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa
Wendy Kliewer, Department of Behavioural Medicine, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa; and Department of Psychology, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia, USA, United States
Basil J Pillay, Department of Behavioural Medicine, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa

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Background. Adolescence represents a challenging transitional period where changes in biological, emotional, cognitive and social domains can increase the risk of developing internalised problems including subthreshold depression. Adolescent-parent attachment style, perceived support and family functioning may increase risk for depressive symptoms or may reduce such risk. Adolescent-parent attachment, adolescent-perceived support from parents and family functioning were examined as correlates of depressive symptom presentation within this age group.

Methods. Participants included a maternal parent and an adolescent (65.5% female) from each family. Adolescents were in Grade 7 (n=175) or Grade 10 (n=31). Data were collected through home interviews. The Self-Report of Family Inventory (SFI), Experiences of Close Relationships Scale (ECR), Network of Relationships Inventory (NRI), Children’s Depression Inventory (CDI) and Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) were used to assess depression, parental support and attachment. 

Results. Two models were examined: one with adolescent report of depressive symptoms as the outcome and a second with parent report of adolescent internalising symptoms as the outcome. The model predicting adolescent-reported depressive symptoms was significant with older age, higher levels of avoidant attachment, and higher levels of youth-reported dysfunctional family interaction associated with more depressive symptomatology. In the model predicting parent report of adolescent internalising symptoms only higher levels of dysfunctional family interaction, as reported by the parent, were associated with higher levels of internalising symptoms.

Conclusion. Positive family communication, cohesion and support predictive of a secure parent-adolescent attachment relationship reduced the risk of a depressive symptom outcome. Secure adolescents were able to regulate their emotions, knowing that they could seek out secure base attachment relations within their family and from friends during times of stress, buffering against the development of depressive symptoms.


Adolescent attachment; family functioning; depressive symptoms


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