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Depression prevention for early adolescent girls: A pilot study of all girls versus co-ed groups

Tara M. Chaplin
University of Pennsylvania
Jane E. Gillham
Swarthmore College & University of Pennsylvania
Karen Reivich
University of Pennsylvania
Andrea G. L. Elkon
University of Pennsylvania
Barbra Samuels
University of Pennsylvania
Derek R. Freres
University of Pennsylvania
Breanna Winder
Swarthmore College
Martin E. P. Seligman
University of Pennsylvania

Published in 'Journal of Early Adolescence', 26 (1), 110-126, February 2006 

This study used the Penn Resiliency Program (PRP), which is a cognitive-behavioural and social problem-solving intervention designed to reduce and prevent depressive symptoms in children and adolescents.  It focuses on teaching ways to identify and evaluate pessimistic thoughts and how to develop behavioural skills for relaxation and emotion regulation.  The program also teaches skills for assertiveness, decision making, and how to cope with conflict.  

The purpose of this study was to evaluate whether or not all-girls depression prevention groups in early adolescence are more beneficial than mixed gender groups.  In previous unpublished studies, the authors found that mixed gender groups had a greater effect on preventing depressive symptoms among boys compared with girls.  As girls face different emotional challenges during early adolescence, they may feel more comfortable discussing certain issues in an environment where boys are not present.  Therefore the authors proposed that girls are likely to benefit more when the intervention is delivered in a girl's only group.

Participants in this study consisted of 208 students (103 girls and 105 boys) who were aged between 11 and 14 years.  Girls were randomly assigned to either an all-girls group, a mixed gender group, or a control group.  Boys were assigned to a mixed gender group or a control group.  Students met for 90 minutes once a week for 12 weeks and those in the control groups did not receive the PRP intervention.  Students completed questionnaires measuring depressive symptoms, hopelessness, and explanatory style for negative events (pessimism) two weeks prior to the intervention and again one week after the intervention ended.  A limited sample also completed the same questionnaires 12 months later.

The results provided supportive evidence for the suggestion that all-girls groups are more beneficial than mixed gender groups for depression prevention programs for early adolescence.  Both groups were equally effective for reducing depressive symptoms and the girls groups were not more successful than the mixed groups.  However, girls groups were more effective in reducing hopelessness among young adolescent girls compared with mixed gender groups.  Moreover, the girls attended the girl?s only groups more often than they attended mixed groups.  

The authors suggest that the significantly larger decrease in hopelessness among the girls in the same-sex groups may have been that they felt more comfortable discussing certain issues in an all-girls setting and therefore divulged more personal information.  By sharing their problems they may have learned that other adolescent girls had overcame similar challenges thus making them feel more hopeful that they could cope with the challenges of adolescence.  Furthermore, they may have developed stronger relationships with one another and the social support of friendships may buffer adolescent girls from hopelessness.  

The girls groups were also more effective for reducing pessimistic explanatory style however this relationship was not evident immediately after the intervention but at a 12-month follow-up and the sample size was significantly smaller at the follow-up period warranting further research to investigate possible delayed effects on explanatory style and whether or not girls groups would be more effective for reducing pessimism in the long-term. 
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