Adverse childhood experiences and adolescent mental health: Understanding the roles of gender and teenage risk and protective factors

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Journal Article

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) have been linked to a host of negative outcomes in adolescence. However, research on the impact of ACEs on adolescent mental health has produced mixed results, leaving it unclear how ACEs may relate to depression and anxiety during adolescence. Moreover, this body of work has neglected how gender, risk and protective factors may influence these relationships, despite research demonstrating gender differences in both responses to adversity and in the impact of risk and protective factors on maladaptive outcomes in adolescence. Drawing on a sample of at-risk youth from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (N = 2455; age 14–18; 48 % female, 50 % Black, 23 % Hispanic), the current study examines the association between ACEs during early childhood (i.e., ages 1 to 5) and anxious and depressive tendencies reported during adolescence. Models are stratified by gender and incorporate six types of teenage risk and protective factors (peer bullying, delinquent peers, low self-control, parental attachment, collective efficacy, and school connectedness). Results showed support for gender differences in the associations between ACEs and boys' and girls' mental health symptoms. Initially, ACEs were associated with an increased risk of both depressive and anxious tendencies in boys, but the total ACEs score was only significantly associated with an increased risk for depressive symptoms in girls. After accounting for teenage protective factors, ACEs were related to a decreased risk of depressive and anxious symptoms among girls only. Findings have important implications for refining intervention and prevention strategies focusing on mitigating the harms of ACEs.

Journal of Affective Disorders