Multiple Risk and Positive Factors for Depressive Symptoms in a Sample of Low-Income African American Mothers

O'Neil, Jennifer, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia
Wilson, Melvin, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia
Harold, Claudrena, Department of History
Emery, Robert, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia
Llewellyn, Patricia, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia

Although studies show that depression is common among African American mothers (Chung, McCollum, Elo, Lee, & Culhane, 2004; Coiro, 2001; McLennan, Kotelchuck, & Cho, 2001), little is known empirically about their actual experiences with depression. Much of the literature that explores maternal depression focuses solely on Caucasian mothers. Significant differences have been found between African American and Caucasian mothers on factors related to depression such as marital status, social support, and neighborhood danger (Bowen & Bowen, 1999; Ennis, Hobfoll, & Schroder, 2000; Eshbaugh, 2006). Coupled with racial oppression and economic hardships experienced by African American women, the ethnic differences across such factors suggest tremendous distinctions between African American and Caucasian mothers (Mays, 1985; McKinnon, 2003; Ogbu, 1993). Moreover, few studies explore the specific pathways by which risk and positive factors affect African American mothers. In addition, Barbee (1992) asserts that much of the literature on African American women and depression neglects to examine contextual factors such as race, gender, and class. The current study explores how low-income African American mothers experience depression. Based on Bronfenbrenner's (1979) ecological framework, it was expected that multiple stressors associated with race, gender, and socioeconomic status would predict levels of depressive symptoms in African American mothers. The sample consisted of 185 African American mothers who participated in the Early Steps Project, a longitudinal, preventative intervention study. The influence of multiple risk and positive (protective and promotive) factors on the level of depressive symptoms in African Depression in African American Mothers iii American mothers as well as the ways in which maternal depressive symptom levels changed over time were examined. Further examination also focused on differences in the experience of depressive symptoms based on marital status. The results show that mothers' level of depressive symptoms decreased over time in a non-linear pattern. However, neither the intervention nor marital status significantly influenced changes in depressive symptoms over time. Also, mothers had higher levels of depressive symptoms as their exposure to risks increased. Several promotive factors, but no protective factors, emerged as significant contributors to the level of depressive symptoms experienced. The theoretical and clinical implications of this study are discussed.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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