Examining Direct and Indirect Pathways between Adolescent Extra-Familial Criminal Victimization and Adult Mental Health

Abstract

This study examines the association between extra-familial criminal victimizations in adolescence and two mental health outcomes—depressive symptomology and suicide ideation—reported in adulthood (mean age = 28). Guided by the adverse childhood experiences and the stress process model, this association is explored while considering other salient predictors of adult mental health, including childhood abuse, negative life events experienced in adolescence and adult stressors including recent criminal victimization and economic strain. Utilizing Wave I (1994–1995) and IV (2008–2009) data from the restricted version of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescents to Adult Health, mediation analyses reveal that adolescent extra-familial victimization experiences are largely associated with adult mental health outcomes indirectly, via adolescent mental health. These results suggest that while such victimization experiences are important factors in understanding adult mental health and should be considered when examining the enduring consequences of adverse childhood experiences, this particular association is complex, nuanced, and only one ingredient in a mixture of an array of adverse experiences that affect adult mental health.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    Of the few studies that have explored mental health outcomes, the respondents are still in the transition years from adolescence to adulthood (aged 25 or earlier). Because such a period is frequently a time of major transitions and psycho-social development (e.g., relationships, work, education, independent living), a more conservative test of the enduring consequences of adolescent victimization on adult mental health would target an older age range.

  2. 2.

    Baglivio et al. (2014) recently expanded the ACE framework to include the following: 1) physical abuse, 2) emotional abuse, 3) sexual abuse, 4) physical neglect, 5) emotional neglect, 6) household substance use, 7) family violence, 8) parental separation or divorce, 9) household mental illness, and 10) having a household member incarcerated. See also Finkelhor (2020) for a review of childhood adversities included in ACE framework.

  3. 3.

    Finkelhor et al. (2013), in an effort to expand and improve the ACE study scale, found that including such extrafamilial measures as peer victimization and property victimization were significant predictors of a measure of distress symptoms, that included depression, among a sample of children, ages 10 to 17. They did not explore the association between these extrafamilial measures and distress in adulthood.

  4. 4.

    This scale is one of the most widely used instruments in epidemiological studies and has excellent psychosocial properties as a tool for detecting depressive symptoms in community samples (see Vilagut, Forero, Barbaglia, & Alonso, 2016, for a meta-analysis supporting its utility), including validation of the shortened version for use as a depression screen for adolescents (Bradley, Bagnell, & Brannen, 2010).

  5. 5.

    In addition to the summed measure of childhood abuse, individual measures of each form of childhood abuse (which captures the reported frequency of abuse events) were also considered in additional analyses. The results were not significantly different using the individual, frequency measures of childhood abuse (results available upon request).

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Availability of Data

This study utilizes restricted use Add health data. For information regarding applying for access, see the following https://data.cpc.unc.edu/docs/Information_Packet_-_Getting_Started.pdf.

Funding

This work was supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse under grant 1R01DA034466–01. The content is solely the responsibility of the author and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health. This research uses data from Add Health, a program project directed by Kathleen Mullan Harris and designed by J. Richard Udry, Peter S. Bearman, and Kathleen Mullan Harris at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and funded by grant P01-HD31921 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, with cooperative funding from 23 other federal agencies and foundations. Special acknowledgment is due Ronald R. Rindfuss and Barbara Entwisle for assistance in the original design. Information on how to obtain the Add Health data files is available on the Add Health website (http://www.cpc.unc.edu/addhealth).

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Eitle, D. Examining Direct and Indirect Pathways between Adolescent Extra-Familial Criminal Victimization and Adult Mental Health. Am J Crim Just (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12103-021-09615-y

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Keywords

  • Juvenile victimization
  • Adult mental health
  • Mediation analysis
  • Adverse childhood experiences