A Latent Class Analysis: Are caregiver factors associated with U.S. adolescents' mental health?

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Journal Article

Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems view adolescents’ development in the context of the surrounding environment. Nevertheless, numerous studies have focused on early childhood more than adolescence in the association with caregiver (mostly parents’) factors. This study employed these theories and latent class analysis (LCA) to examine how the mental health of adolescents are associated with primary caregiver factors. Specifically, we aimed to investigate how primary caregiver factors are relevant to the degree of adolescents’ depression and anxiety.

We used national data from adolescents aged fifteen and their primary caregivers who completed the 2017 Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Survey. We identified adolescents whose primary caregivers participated in the Wave 6 survey to include caregiver indicators for LCA, rendering a total of 3,206 subjects. Using R, we identified a four-class model as our final model. We found that adolescents in Class 1 (High-Risk Factors) scored higher on anxiety and depression compared to Class 2 (Poverty with Life Satisfaction) and Class 3 (High Protective Factors). On depression, adolescents in Class 2 scored higher than those in Class 3, and adolescents in Class 4 (Higher Emotional Risk and Protective Factors) scored higher than those in Class 3.

Our results indicate that adolescents who live with primary caregivers with protective factors tend to have better mental health outcomes. Primary caregiver protective factors, such as employment status, education level, and life satisfaction, are associated with lower levels of depression in adolescents. Furthermore, caregiver emotional health is important in relation to their adolescent's mental well-being. This study's implications suggest that professionals should assess the needs of adolescents living in poverty and provide them with access to appropriate mental health services. The findings also highlight the importance of addressing substance use issues and promoting educational resources for primary caregivers. Future research is recommended to explore other facets of adolescents’ well-being and to understand the mechanisms by which risk and protective factors influence adolescents’ mental health.

Children and Youth Services Review
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