Type of Document Dissertation Author MacDonald, Ryan Author's Email Address email@example.com URN etd-06202006-113654 Title Social Context and Mental Health: The Role and Significance of Neighborhood and Family Degree Doctor of Philosophy Department Sociology, Department of Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title R. Jay Turner Committee Chair Anne Barrett Committee Member Clarence C. Gravlee Committee Member John Reynolds Committee Member John Taylor Committee Member Keywords
- Mental Health
- Socioeconomic Status
- Social Context
Date of Defense 2006-04-28 Availability unrestricted AbstractAs Pearlin (1989) has argued, risk and protective factors for mental health problems arise out of the structural contexts of people’s lives and are fundamental to the study of mental health. Despite wide acceptance of this proposition by the field, relatively little attention has been devoted to the effort to specify those variations in social context that matter. That is, what are the aspects of context that put people at risk for risks and/or are protective from risks?
Although efforts have been made to understand the mental health significance of separate dimensions of context, few studies consider them together. Specifically, research on the mental health significance of neighborhood circumstances has rarely considered other aspects of social context. Thus, an effort to understand the role and significance of neighborhoods for mental health that includes a consideration of more proximal family arrangements is likely to advance the field. Within this framework, the present study examines two spheres of adolescent social context, neighborhoods and families, and considers how such contexts influence young adult mental health. Further, this research explores mechanisms that may explain the linkage between social context and mental health problems.
Data from a large (n = 1803) study of young adults allows for a relatively more comprehensive estimation of social context than has previously been examined. The sample was drawn such that 25% were non-Hispanic white, 25% were African American, and 50% were of Hispanic origin.
Findings suggest that multiple dimensions of neighborhood context make independent contributions to the prediction of young adult psychological distress. Considering the relevance of both neighborhood and family context for young adult mental health, respondents from disadvantaged neighborhoods, single parent families, and families with few socioeconomic resources have higher levels of psychological distress. However, it is the more proximal family conditions that matter for the relationship between social context and psychological distress. Findings indicate family socioeconomic status to be the most robust predictor of psychological distress, all study variables considered. Additionally, results suggest that family processes and exposure to social stress are two of the mechanisms that explain the linkage between social context and psychological distress. However, they do not fully explain the link between family socioeconomic status and young adult mental health.
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