JOURNAL ARTICLE

Childhood adversity and adult depression among the incarcerated: differential exposure and vulnerability by race/ethnicity and gender

Susan Roxburgh, Kelly Rhea MacArthur
Child Abuse & Neglect 2014, 38 (8): 1409-20
24703205
The relationship between childhood adversity and adult depression is well-established but less is known about the association between childhood adversity and adult depression among the incarcerated. In this paper, we examine differential exposure and vulnerability to childhood adversity by race/ethnicity and gender on adult depression among the incarcerated in the United States. We address three research questions: does exposure to childhood adverse experiences vary by race/ethnicity and gender? Is there an association between these childhood adverse events and depression and does the strength of the association vary by the specific adverse experiences? And does vulnerability to childhood adversity vary by gender and race/ethnicity? Using the 2004 Survey of Inmates in State and Federal Correctional Facilities (SI-SFCF), we measure four key childhood adverse events - parental/caretaker substance abuse, physical assault, having been placed in foster care, and sexual assault. We use ordinary least squares regression and a series of interaction effect analyses to examine differential exposure and vulnerability to the four childhood adverse experiences by race/ethnicity and gender. Incarcerated women are more likely to report parental substance abuse, but all inmates/prisoners are similarly vulnerable to this experience. For the other three adverse experiences measured, we find that there are important racial/ethnic and gender differences in both exposure and vulnerability. African American men and women are more vulnerable to the effects of physical and sexual victimization than White and Hispanic men and women. Women are much more likely to be exposed to sexual victimization, but men who report this experience are significantly more depressed. Hispanic women and White men and women are more likely to report foster care, but all inmates/prisoners who report foster care experiences are significantly more depressed than other inmates/prisoners, with the exception of white men. The findings indicate that there are significant differences in exposure and vulnerability to childhood adversity by race/ethnicity and gender. We conclude that in order to effectively design and implement programs to decrease the probability that childhood adversity is a risk factor for adult depression interventions must be targeted toward specific, vulnerable groups according to race/ethnicity and gender.

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