Methods: The online survey recruited a national sample of 1,067 college students in 2021. The study employed non-probability quota sampling to have a balanced ratio in gender (female and male) and geographic locations (Seoul and other cities). The dependent variable was mental health assessed by the Patient Health Questionnaire-4 (PHQ-4): depressive and anxiety symptoms. The independent variables were ACEs and counter-ACEs. Eleven binary indicators were used to count the total number of ACEs (e.g., emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional neglect, physical neglect, parental separation/divorce, intimate partner violence, and substance abuse, mental illness, death, incarceration in family; range 0 to 11). The total number of counter-ACEs was measured with 10 binary items using the Benevolent Childhood Experiences Scale (range 0 to 10). The questions asked about their home, neighborhood, and school environments, such as whether having a safe home environment with a predictable routine or fun activities, having good friends and neighbors, and having teachers who cared or liking the school attended. We conducted an OLS regression analysis to simultaneously test the associations of ACEs and counter-ACEs with mental health, controlling for sociodemographic characteristics (age, gender, college location are, college type, parents’ education, income, work status, and health status).
Results: The participants were 22 years old on average (SD=2.26). One thirds of the participants reported currently work to make money. The average health status was good overall (M=3.4, SD=.88). The mean ACEs score was 2.00 (SD=2.09), and the mean counter-ACEs score was 8.01 (SD=2.29). The average PHQ score for mental health was 7.32 (SD=5.15). The regression analysis presented that there was a positive association between ACEs and mental health (b= .15, p< .05), and counter-ACEs was negatively associated with mental health (b= -.26, p< .05), controlling for other factors. Every adversity experience increased mental health symptoms by .15 point. For every positive experience (counter ACEs), mental health symptoms decreased by .26 point.
Discussion and Implications: It is important to note that counter-ACEs are related to mental health in young adulthood. This study provides important evidence that counter-ACEs can lead to a positive effect on mental health. This study discusses policy and practice implications that promote of positive experiences to offset the deleterious effects of ACEs.