Poor mental health among low-income women in the U.S.: The roles of adverse childhood and adult experiences

Mersky, J. P., Janczewski, C. E., & Nitkowski, J. C. (2018). Poor mental health among low-income women in the U.S.: The roles of adverse childhood and adult experiences. Social Science and Medicine.

It is well established that exposure to a greater number of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs)increases the risk of poor physical and mental health outcomes. Given the predictive validity of ACE scores and other cumulative risk metrics, a similar measurement approach may advance the study of risk in adulthood.Objective:We examined the prevalence and interrelations of 10 adverse adult experiences, including household events such as intimate partner violence and extra familial events such as crime victimization. We also tested the relation between cumulative adult adversity and later mental health problems, and we examined whether adult adversity mediates the link between childhood adversity and mental health.

Data were collected from 501 women in the Families and Children Thriving Study, a longitudinal investigation of low-income families that received home visiting services in Wisconsin. We conducted correlation analyses to assess interrelations among study measures along with multivariate analyses to test the effects of childhood and adult adversity on three outcomes: depression, anxiety, and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).We then fit a structural equation model to test whether the effects of childhood adversity on mental health are mediated by adult adversity.

Over 80% of participants endorsed at least one adverse adult experience. Adult adversities correlated with each other and with the mental health outcomes. Controlling for ACEs and model covariates, adult adversity scores were positively associated with depression, anxiety, and PTSD scores. Path analyses revealed that the ACE-mental health connection was mediated by adult adversity.

Our findings indicate that mental health problems may be better understood by accounting for processes through which early adversity leads to later adversity. Pending replication, this line of research has the potential to improve the identification of populations that are at risk of poor health outcomes.

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