The ability to regulate emotions has been linked to a variety of adolescent health-risk behaviors, including sexual risk behaviors, especially for adolescents who are experiencing mental health symptoms. However, there is limited information available on intuitive emotion regulation strategies for early adolescents with mental health symptoms to facilitate the adaptation of emotion regulation interventions for psychopathology to health-risk behavior prevention. For example, interventions to prevent sexual risk behaviors in early adolescence have yet to specifically target emotion regulation.
This paper describes the use of focus groups to identify emotion regulation strategies that were understood by and acceptable to early adolescents with mental health symptoms who are also more likely to engage in risky health behaviors. Qualitative data were collected through focus groups (k = 5 groups) with 15 early adolescents with mental health symptoms.
The most commonly generated emotion regulation strategies were leaving the situation, distraction, physical release, expressing oneself to someone, positive thinking, and considering other options.
Early adolescents with mental health symptoms identified multiple acceptable and developmentally appropriate emotion regulation strategies. Translation of these findings for use in preventive health-risk behavior interventions (including for sexual risk) is discussed.