Report: Teenagers Who Participate in the Arts Are More Likely to Become Depressed

While researchers frequently tout the benefits of arts education for children and youths of all ages — often providing ammo for campaigns seeking to safeguard funding for arts programs — a new study led by Boston College suggests that teenagers who participate in after-school arts activities like painting, drama, and music are more likely to develop symptoms of depression than their less-artsy peers. The study, BC researchers say, corroborates previous findings that adult artists are more likely to display symptoms of mental illness than non-artists.

“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,” the study’s leader Laura N. Young, told IBNLive. “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.”

According to a statement from the college, the study found that in general girls were more likely to take part in extra-curricular arts activities and develop depressive tendencies as a result, but on balance both boys and girls who do so are more depression-prone than students their age who did not participate in the arts. Further widening the jock-artist divide, the study found that the teens least likely to become depressed are those involved exclusively in sports activities.

The study was based on teenage arts participation data from 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, and 2010 charted in the U.S. Longitudinal Survey of Youth, in which some 2,482 15- and 16-year-old students participated.

— Benjamin Sutton

(Image: Detail from Alex Katz’s “Vincent with Open Mouth,” 1970. Via.)