Risk and protective factors associated with depression among racial and ethnic mothers of adolescents

Marivel Davila, The University of Texas School of Public Health


The central paradigm linking disadvantaged social status and mental health has been the social stress model (Horwitz, 1999), the assumption being that individuals residing in lower social status groups are subjected to greater levels of stress not experienced by individuals from higher status groups. A further assumption is that such individuals have fewer resources to cope with stress, in turn leading to higher levels of psychological disorder, including depression (Pearlin, 1989). Despite these key assumptions, there is a dearth of literature comparing the social patterning of stress exposure (Hatch & Dohrenwend, 2007; Meyer, Schwartz, & Frost, 2008; Kessler, Mickelson, & Williams, 1999; Turner & Avison, 2003; Turner & Lloyd, 1999; Turner, Wheaton, & Lloyd, 1995), and the distribution and contribution of protective factors, posited to play a role in the low rates of depression found among African- and Latino-Americans (Alegria et al., 2007; Breslau, Aguilar-Gaxiola, Kendler, Su, Williams, & Kessler, 2006; Breslau, Borges, Hagar, Tancredi, Gilman, 2009; Gavin, Walton, Chae, Alegria, Jackson, & Takeuchi, 2010; Williams, & Neighbors, 2006). Thus, this study sought to describe both the distribution and contribution of risk and protective factors in relation to depression among a sample of African-, European-, and Latina-American mothers of adolescents, including testing a hypothesized mechanism through which social support, an important protective factor specific to women and depression, operates. Despite the finding that the levels of depression were not statistically different across all three groups of women, surprising results were found in describing the distribution of both risk and protective factors, in that results reported among all women who were mothers when analyzed masked differences within each ethnic group when SES was assessed, a point made explicit by Williams (2002) regarding racial and ethnic variations in women's health. In the final analysis, while perceived social support was found to partially mediate the effect of social isolation on depression, among African-Americans, the direct effect of social isolation and depression was lower among this group of women, as was the indirect effect of social isolation and perceived social support when compared to European- and Latina-American mothers. Or, put differently, higher levels of social isolation were not found to be as associated with more depression or lower social support among African-American mothers when compared to their European- and Latina-American counterparts. Women in American society occupy a number of roles, i.e., that of being female, married or single, mother, homemaker or employee. In addition, to these roles, ethnicity and SES also come into play, such that the intersection of all these roles and the social contexts that they occupy are equally important and must be taken into consideration when making predictions drawn from the social stress model. Based on these findings, it appears that the assumptions of the social stress model need to be revisited to include the variety of roles that intersect among individuals from differing social groups. More specifically, among women who are mothers and occupy a myriad of other roles, i.e., that of being female, married or single, African- or Latina-American, mother, homemaker or employee, the intersection of all the roles and the social contexts that women occupy are equally important and must be taken into consideration when looking at both the types and distribution of stressors across women. Predictions based on simple, mutually exclusive categories of social groups may lead to erroneous assumptions and misleading results.

Subject Area

Behavioral psychology|Social psychology|Womens studies|Clinical psychology

Recommended Citation

Davila, Marivel, "Risk and protective factors associated with depression among racial and ethnic mothers of adolescents" (2013). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI3587089.