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Gender, Ethnicity May Shape How Emotional Neglect and Abuse Impact Teen Depression

Physical and sexual abuse are known risk factors for depression in adolescents. But less is known about the role of emotional abuse and neglect in teen depression.

Now, a new longitudinal study by researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln finds that emotional abuse and neglect affect adolescent depression differently, depending on gender and ethnicity.

“Even though both types of maltreatment predict depression, they may predict depression for different reasons. Furthermore, female teenagers may be more sensitive to emotional abuse, while the impact of emotional neglect may differ based on the adolescent’s racial or ethnic identity,” said Dr. Joseph Cohen.

Cohen is an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and one of the study’s authors. “Understanding how different youth are affected by different parenting behaviors can lead to more personalized, trauma-informed interventions.”

The study appears in Child Development, a journal of the Society for Research in Child Development.

Researchers used self-reports from 657 youth ages 11 to 14 years from a range of racial and ethnic backgrounds. The youth were part of the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being, a nationally representative longitudinal study. The assessment evaluates the outcomes of children who had Child Protective Services investigations for child abuse or neglect closed during a 15-month period beginning in February 2008 in the United States.

The teenagers were initially assessed on emotional maltreatment, relationships with peers, school engagement (the extent to which students participated in the academic and nonacademic activities of school, and felt connected at school), and depression. Peer involvement included assessment of feelings of loneliness and social dissatisfaction in relationships with other youth.

Participants were assessed again 18 months and 36 months later. Emotional abuse was defined as parental psychological aggression and emotional neglect was defined as parental noninvolvement.

The study found that both psychological aggression and parental non-involvement were related to depression in the adolescents. Psychological aggression predicted an increase in symptoms of depression through increasing problems associated with peer relationships, especially for girls.

The study also found that decreasing school engagement mediated the relation between parental non-involvement and increasing symptoms of depression, but only for Hispanic adolescents.

The study’s authors acknowledge limitations to their work: the study assessed teenagers through self-reports, including the assessment of emotional abuse and neglect.

Recommendations for future research includes development of a multimethod approach (e.g., parent reports, administrative data) to provide a more comprehensive picture of how different forms of emotional maltreatment may manifest and predict depression.

In addition, the 18-month gap between follow-up assessments prevented researchers from detecting fluctuations in symptoms in briefer intervals.

“Current clinical services and policies are more focused on abuse than maltreatment,” said Shiesha McNeil, a doctoral student in psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who co-authored the study.

“By articulating the consequences of emotional neglect for different genders and ethnicities, we can develop better ways to address maltreatment and alleviate depression.”

Source: Society for Research in Child Development/EurekAlert

Gender, Ethnicity May Shape How Emotional Neglect and Abuse Impact Teen Depression

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2020). Gender, Ethnicity May Shape How Emotional Neglect and Abuse Impact Teen Depression. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 19, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 1 Apr 2020 (Originally: 1 Apr 2020)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 1 Apr 2020
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