Family Disruption Increases Functional Somatic Symptoms in Late Adolescence: The TRAILS Study
Objective. Functional somatic symptoms (FSSs) are physical symptoms that cannot be (fully) explained by organic pathology. FSSs are very common among children and adolescents, yet their etiology is largely unknown. We hypothesize that (a) the experience of family disruption due to parental divorce or parental death increases FSSs in adolescents; (b) symptoms of depression and anxiety contribute to the relationship between family disruption and FSSs; (c) girls are more vulnerable to these effects than boys. Method. Data were obtained from the prospective population cohort of Dutch adolescents of the Tracking Adolescents' Individual Lives Survey (N = 2,230), aged 10 to 12 years at baseline. FSSs were assessed using the Somatic Complaints subscale of the Youth Self-Report. Parental divorce and parental death were assessed with self-reports. Both outcome and predictors were assessed during 3 assessment waves over the course of 5 years. Linear mixed models were used to investigate associations between both types of family disruption and FSSs. Results. An interaction with age was found for parental divorce (B = 0.01, p = .02) and parental death (B = 0.03, p = .04), indicating that the influence of family disruption on FSSs increases during adolescence. This relationship seems to be partly explained by symptoms of depression and anxiety. No gender differences were found with regard to the effects of family disruption on FSSs. Conclusions. Family disruption is associated with an increased level of FSSs in late adolescence in both genders. This relationship is partly explained by symptoms of depression and/or anxiety.
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