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Polyvictimization, income, and ethnic differences in trauma-related mental health during adolescence



The purpose of the present study was to investigate ethnic differences in trauma-related mental health symptoms among adolescents, and test the mediating and moderating effects of polyvictimization (i.e., number of types of traumas/victimizations experienced by an individual) and household income, respectively.


Data were drawn from the first wave of the National Survey of Adolescents-replication study (NSA-R), which took place in the US in 2005 and utilized random digit dialing to administer a telephone survey to adolescents ages 12–17. Participants included in the current analyses were 3312 adolescents (50.2 % female; mean age 14.67 years) from the original sample of 3614 who identified as non-Hispanic White (n = 2346, 70.8 %), non-Hispanic Black (n = 557, 16.8 %), or Hispanic (n = 409, 12.3 %). Structural equation modeling was utilized to test hypothesized models.


Non-Hispanic Black and Hispanic participants reported higher levels of polyvictimization and trauma-related mental health symptoms (symptoms of posttraumatic stress and depression) compared to non-Hispanic Whites, though the effect sizes were small (γ ≤ 0.07). Polyvictimization fully accounted for the differences in mental health symptoms between non-Hispanic Blacks and non-Hispanic Whites, and partially accounted for the differences between Hispanics and non-Hispanic Whites. The relation between polyvictimization and trauma-related mental health symptoms was higher for low-income youth than for high-income youth.


Disparities in trauma exposure largely accounted for racial/ethnic disparities in trauma-related mental health. Children from low-income family environments appear to be at greater risk of negative mental health outcomes following trauma exposure compared to adolescents from high-income families.

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  1. 1.

    We use the terms non-Hispanic Black, non-Hispanic White, and Hispanic to be consistent with labeling used by the NSA, NSA-R and the US Census Bureau. Although definitions of race and ethnicity vary, the US Census refers to White and Black/African American as racial categories, and refers to Hispanic as an ethnicity. According to the US Census Bureau, the term Hispanic refers to anyone “of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish cultural or origin regardless of race”, the term “White refers to a person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa”, and the term Black “refers to a person having origins in any of the Black racial groups of Africa” [65]. As such, while we understand that various terms exist to describe different racial, ethnic, and cultural groups, in the current manuscript, non-Hispanic Black refers to someone who is Black and not of Hispanic origin, non-Hispanic White similarly refers to someone who is White and not of Hispanic origin, and Hispanic refers to someone of Hispanic origin and who may be of any race.

  2. 2.

    When discussing differences between non-Hispanic Black, non-Hispanic White, and Hispanic groups, we use the term racial/ethnic differences to reflect that the descriptors of each group refer to race and ethnicity per the US Census Bureau [65].


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This manuscript was supported in part by grants R01DA025616-04S1 from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), NIH, and T32MH18869 from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), NIH. Views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of the funding agencies acknowledged.

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Correspondence to Arthur R. Andrews III.

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Andrews, A.R., Jobe-Shields, L., López, C.M. et al. Polyvictimization, income, and ethnic differences in trauma-related mental health during adolescence. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 50, 1223–1234 (2015).

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  • Health disparities
  • Ethnic minority issues
  • PTSD
  • Depression
  • Trauma