Date of Award

Fall 2004

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Heather A Turner


Numerous studies have documented the harmful effects of childhood exposure to adversity on adult psychopathology. The relative impact of different types of stress, however, is less certain. Moreover, while there is very good evidence that childhood exposure to adversity does increase the likelihood of experiencing psychopathology, less is known about the mechanisms through which this happens. It is my hypothesis that childhood adversity exhibits effects on psychological distress in young adulthood, at least in part, through its damaging impact on the development of social and personal resources---specifically, by affecting a reduction in family support, peer support, self-esteem, and mastery. Further, I expect that the importance of different mediators in explaining the link between stress and depression will vary by stress type.

Secondary analyses of data from a sample of 649 individuals attending one of three colleges in the New England area were performed to assess the relative impact of each of several domains of childhood/adolescent adversity, and to identify mechanisms by which different forms of adversity affect psychological distress among young adults.

Findings indicate that while both non-violent self-adversity and non-violent family-adversity affect later well-being, adversity experienced indirectly through family hardships has a more severe impact. Also, witnessing the violent victimization of intimates can have effects on depression equal to personally experiencing the same type of victimization. In general, the mediating influences of the resource variables on the relationships to depression of the stressor domains were relatively small. Interesting patterns, however, did emerge. The two most important mediators of the relationship to depression of family-adversity are self-esteem and mastery; of self-adversity , family support and self-esteem; of violence experienced , family support, peer support, and self-esteem; and of violence witnessed, mastery. Further, the combined mediating effect of the resource variables is greater for family-adversity than it is for self-adversity, and greater for violence experienced than it is for violence witnessed. Because different mediators matter more or less depending on the type of stress considered, it is evident that the mechanisms involved in the translation of stress to depression do vary somewhat by stress type. Some implications of these findings are discussed.