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The impact of violence exposure on adolescents’ ratings of posttraumatic stress, depression and suicidal ideation Misic, Diana

Abstract

The purpose of this study was to examine the relationship between violence exposure and internalizing symptomatology (PTSD, depression, suicidal ideation). This study also examined the role of gender and social support within this relationship. There are several reasons for examining the impact of exposure to violence on PTSD, depression and suicidal ideation symptomatology. Perhaps the most prominent of theses is the recent publicity regarding the extent of violence in schools and communities. For this study, violence exposure was defined as being physically near, and/or observing a violent event. Past studies have shown that violence exposure is pervasive for adults, children and adolescents (O'Keefe, 1997; Singer et al., 1995). As the limited literature on gender differences in violence exposure has revealed differing results, further investigation of gender differences in violence exposure is warranted. Studies have shown a positive relationship between different types of internalizing symptomatology (depression, traumatic stress, suicidal ideation) and violence exposure; the greater the violence exposure, the higher the symptoms exhibited by the individual. An important facet of the relation between violence exposure and internalizing symptomatology often neglected is the issue of social support. In this study negative life events was entered as a controlling variable. The present study examined the following hypotheses and questions: (1) There will be significant differences between levels of social support and violence exposure for internalizing symptomatology, controlling for negative life events; (2) What are the differences in levels of internalizing symptomatology between males and females with high violence exposure and high social support?, and, What are the differences in levels of internalizing symptomatology between males and females with high violence exposure and low social support?; and (3) Do the proportions of females and males with the low. Moderate and high violence exposure levels significantly differ from one another? Respondents included 431 high school students attending four schools in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia. Students ranged in age from 13 to 20 years, attending grades 8 through 12. Of the total sample, 38% were males and 62% were females. Respondents were asked to complete self-report measures including the Exposure to Violence Questionnaire (EVQ), the Reynolds Adolescent Depression Scale (RADS), the PTS scale of the Adolescent Psychopathology Scale ( A P S ) , the Suicidal Ideation Questionnaire-Jr. (SIQJr), the Adolescent Support Inventory (ASI) and the Negative Life Events Scale (NLE). Of the total sample, 57% and 44% of females reported moderate or high levels of violence exposure/ Eighty-nine percent of students reported and incidence of violence at their school, and over half reported knowing someone who had been attacked. Upon examining levels of internalizing symptomatology between males with high or moderate levels of violence exposure and high social support and males with high or moderate levels of violence exposure and low social support, results revealed no significant differences between the groups on measures of internalizing symptomatology. No significant differences between females with high or moderate levels of violence exposure and high social support and females with high or moderate levels of violence exposure and low social support were evident on measures of PTSD or suicidal ideation. Results revealed a significant main effect for social support on a measure of depression. Upon examining the levels of internalizing symptomatology between males and females with high or moderate levels of violence exposure and high and low social support, no significant differences were present between the groups on all measures of internalizing symptomatology. A greater proportion of females than males were within the low group. However, there was a greater proportion of males within the medium and high violence exposure groups. The high levels of violence exposure of adolescents in their communities and schools suggest the need for developing school and community intervention programs to treat violence and its impact on adolescent mental health. As well, the results of this study suggest that social support may not have the previously believed buffering effect once violence exposure is high.

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