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Prevalence and mental health correlates of witnessed parental and community violence in a national sample of adolescents

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Background: 

Although research suggests that witnessed violence is linked to adverse mental health outcomes among adolescents, little is known about its prevalence or its significance in predicting psychiatric symptoms beyond the contribution of co-occurring risk factors. The purpose of this study was to identify the national prevalence of witnessed parental and community violence and to examine these life stressors as independent risk factors for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and major depressive episode (MDE) among adolescents. A secondary aim was to determine which characteristics of witnessed violence were associated with mental health outcomes. Method: 

Participants were 3,614 adolescents recruited from a 2005 US national household probability sample who completed structured telephone interviews assessing witnessed violence and Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-IV (DSM-IV) criteria for PTSD and MDE. Results: 

National prevalence of witnessed parental violence and witnessed community violence was estimated to be 9% and 38%, respectively. Both forms of witnessed violence predicted PTSD and MDE beyond variance accounted for by age, gender, race/ethnicity, income, and other traumatic event history. Perceptions of threat, repeated violence exposure, location of the violence, and relationship to the victim were associated with psychiatric diagnoses. Conclusions: 

Findings suggest that witnessed violence represents a significant public health burden with implications for psychological assessment and prevention efforts.
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Keywords: Witnessed violence; adolescence; community violence; depression; domestic violence; post-traumatic stress disorder; prevalence

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: April 1, 2009

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