Exploring the relationship between exposure to violence during adolescence and adult depression

Alison Grodzinski Research Highlights Leave a Comment

This past week, FAS researchers traveled to Denver, Colorado to present some recent findings from the Flint Adolescent Study at the American Public Health Association Annual Meeting. The study explored the relationship between adult attachment style, exposure to violence during adolescence and depression during adulthood. Researchers found evidence that was consistent with previous findings supporting the association between exposure to violence and negative mental health outcomes.

For more information about these findings and this presentation, please contact us.

heinze-cook-dumadag-zimmerman-apha2016-final-1-3Adult attachment style moderates the effect of adolescent exposure to violence on emerging adult depression trajectories


Justin Heinze, University of Michigan School of Public Health

Stephanie Cook, New York University

Marc Zimmerman, University of Michigan School of Public Health


Background: Exposure to violence (ETV) and victimization in adolescence is associated with a number of negative outcomes, including anxiety and depression (Edleson, 1999), PTSD (Kilpatrick et al., 2010), aggression (Ozer, 2005), and substance use (Sullivan, et al., 2006). Attachment security, the ability to create and sustain healthy emotional bonds with others (Mikulincer & Shaver, 2007), may protect against the negative effects of ETV on young adult mental health (Aspelmeier, Elliott, & Smith, 2007). We examine the moderating effect of attachment style on the association between adolescent ETV and depression trajectories in emerging adulthood.

Method: Adolescents (N=850; Female = 50%; African American = 80.1%) were included and assessed four times in adolescence (Mages = 14.9-17.9), and eight times in emerging and early adulthood (Mages = 20.6-33.4). Adolescent ETV was measured using level of family conflict (5 items; Moos & Moos, 1981), observed violence (2 items; Richters, 1990), and victimization (3 items). Depression was assessed at each wave using the Brief Symptom Inventory (Derogatis & Spencer, 1982). Attachment style was assessed at 11th and 12th grade (Hazan & Shaver, 1987). We used latent growth curve models to describe both ETV trajectories in adolescence and depression trajectories from age 20-33. The depression intercept and slope were regressed on the adolescent ETV intercept and slope. We then tested a multi-group model (secure, insecure, avoidant) to test the moderating effects of attachment.

Results: Overall, depression levels decreased as the sample aged. Negative family violence trajectories, relative to observed violence and victimization, emerged as the strongest predictor of higher depression levels in emerging adulthood. A multi-group model (attachment group) showed adequate fit to the data (RMSEA=.07; SRMR=.10; CFI=.84). For securely attached participants, previous ETV did not consistently predict later depressive outcomes. For insecurely attached respondents, ETV predicted higher levels of depression at age 20, but also faster decreases in symptoms over time.

Conclusions: Results from this study are consistent with previous findings supporting the association between ETV and negative mental health outcomes. We will compare differences in adolescent attachment with other known correlates of depression to determine the relative importance of attachment as a protective factor.

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