While research has documented the impact of exposure to violence on sleep and depression, less is known about what forms of violence most affect depressive symptoms and sleep habits, and how the effects vary by the type of violence and by gender. Data were drawn from a sample of 440 African American young adults ages 18-25 living in Washington, DC. We first conducted factor analysis of the exposure to childhood and community violence scales to identify domains or types of violence. We then conducted a series of regression analyses to assess how the various types of childhood and community violence affected dependent variables representing depressive symptoms and sleep habits factors. While adult exposure to community violence of gun use or seeing violent death was the strongest factor among men, explaining a mean of 62.9 percent of the total variance in the regressions in which it appeared, exposure to direct personal attacks was much more important in the regressions for women, explaining 100.0 percent of the variance in sleep effects among women. The results suggest that a large number of young African American adults are exposed to violence as children and adults, and that community violence especially impacts depressive mood and sleep patterns. Further research is needed on how African Americans’ higher exposure to community and childhood violence contributes to disparities in mental and physical health.

Key Take Away Points

  • Large numbers of African American adults are exposed to violence as children and adults.

  • There are significant differences in how males and females experience exposures to community violence.

  • Understanding how exposures to community violence experienced by African Americans as children and adults can help contribute to reducing disparities in mental and physical health.

Author Biography

Forough Saadatmand, PhD, is Assistant Professor in the Department of Pediatrics and Child Health at Howard University. She focuses her research in African American communities with the goal to inform our understanding of practical approaches to reduce and eliminate health disparities. Dr. Saadatmand’s current research examines behavioral and biological factors related to exposure to community and interpersonal violence, substance abuse, and HIV/AIDS among African American young adults. Her experience and expertise in research and research training encompasses collaborative studies that reach across multiple disciplines in academic and non-academic settings. She is the Principal Investigator of the an ongoing longitudinal study funded by the National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, “Violence Exposure, Immune Function & HIV/AIDS Risks in African American Young Adults.” This study examines the effects of exposure to violence on the immune function with drug use, risky sexual behavior, depression and stress events as mediating variables among 660 African-American participants, ages 18-25, who live in Washington, D.C. Dr. Saadatmand has served as Principal Investigator and senior investigator on similar NIH-funded studies examining genetic markers for alcohol and depression, violence exposure and drug use in young African American adults. She has published scientific articles, presented at conferences, and mentors PhD faculty and students at Howard University. She received her undergraduate degree in sociology at Kent State University and her masters and doctoral degrees in sociology from Howard University.


This project has been funded in whole or in part with U.S. Government funds from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Institute of Minority Health & Health Disparities (Grant # 4RO1MD005851), “Re-Engineering the Clinical Research Enterprise,” Grant # UL1TR000101 and the District of Columbia Department of Health (DCDOH), The HIV Prevention Grant #16Z202. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the NIH or the DCDOH or the Bureau of Justice statistics or the U.S. Department of Justice. We acknowledge the contribution of Dr. Kathy Sanders-Phillips, PhD, the original Principal Investigator of this grant. The authors would like to thank the recruitment team.