The Social Environment Matters for Telomere Length and Internalizing Problems During Adolescence

J Youth Adolesc. 2024 Jan;53(1):21-35. doi: 10.1007/s10964-023-01848-w. Epub 2023 Sep 25.


Depression and anxiety symptoms are on the rise among adolescents. With increasing evidence that cellular aging may be associated with depressive and anxiety symptoms, there is an urgent need to identify the social environment context that may moderate this link. This study addresses this research gap by investigating the moderating role of the social environment on the relation between telomere length and emotional health among adolescents. Participants were 411 non-Hispanic (88.56%) Black (100%) adolescents (M = 14.23 years, SD = 1.85, female = 54%) in a major metropolitan city. Youth and parents reported on an array of social risk and protective factors, and youth provided DNA samples for telomere length measurement. Results demonstrated that the association of telomere length and anxiety symptoms was stronger among youth with higher perceived stress or lower school belongingness, and the association of telomere length with depressive symptoms was stronger under conditions of higher parent inter-partner psychological aggression. The results enhance our understanding of the complex associations between biological aging, the social environment, and mental health in adolescence.

Keywords: Anxiety; Depression; Family support; School belongingness; Stress; Telomere length.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Anxiety / psychology
  • Depression* / psychology
  • Emotions*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Social Environment
  • Telomere