Methods: This study examined Black American adolescents living in low-income communities in Alabama from the Mobile Youth Survey, which is a 14-year longitudinal study from 1998 to 2011. The final sample for this study comprised of 517 adolescents (age ranges from 12 to 18 years old) who participated in the data collection two or more times and was matched with adult participants. Parental psychological distress was operationalized with depression and traumatic stress. Depression and traumatic stress were measured by the 20-item CES-D (α=0.86) and the 12-item Global Appraisal of Individual Needs (α=0.90). Adolescents hopelessness was measured by an adapted version the Hopelessness Scale for Children with 6-item (α=0.83). Attachment to school and peers were measured by the 8-item School Connectedness (α=0.63) and the 18-item Inventory of Peer Attachment (α=0.60). Hierarchical Linear Models were tested to examine moderating effects of peer and school attachment on the association between parental psychological distress and adolescents’ hopelessness.
Results: Females and males were approximately split in half (52% vs. 48% respectively). Adult sample consisted of 92% female caretakers. Adolescents’ hopelessness was significantly greater than 0 at baseline, but it was not found to significantly change over time. Adult depression and traumatic stress significantly affected adolescent hopelessness at baseline and change over time. Adolescents who have caretakers with low levels of depression have low level of hopelessness at baseline regardless of adult traumatic stress levels. If caretakers have high levels of depression, the level of traumatic stress greatly influenced the level of hopelessness in adolescents over time. Attachment to peers was found to significantly decrease the adolescents’ hopelessness in the presence of high levels of adult depression, but not for caretakers’ stress. Attachment to school was found to significantly buffer the effect of adult depression and traumatic stress on adolescent hopelessness at baseline, but its moderating effects become weaker when caretaker traumatic stress was high.
Discussion: Findings from this study suggest that primary caretakers’ depression and traumatic stress significantly affect adolescents’ hopelessness in the short- and long-term. Providing services for parents with psychological distress is critical for adolescents’ mental health. Since attachment to peer and school buffer the influence of parental mental health on adolescents’ mental health, developing healthy connections to peers and school will protect them from getting hopeless and minimize negative outcomes from parental depression and traumatic stress.