Evaluating traumatic life events: An assessment of the health and delinquent outcomes of youth exposed to trauma
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Traumatic life events that occur early in life can result in a number of negative outcomes for youth, including, but not limited to effects on physical health, mental health, behavioral health, and delinquency. While there is much evidence to support the aforementioned relationships, research also suggests that the delinquent outcome is likely mediated by the negative mental health and behavioral outcomes attributed to early traumatic experiences. This particular area of focus requires further development, because current research regarding youth exposed to traumatic life events tends to focus on singular forms of criminal victimization (e.g., violent victimization, sexual victimization, or bullying) and often neglects to account for other traumatic experiences. Likewise, research in this area tends to focus on one instance in time (e.g., in the short-term or in the long-term). As a result, it is important to further examine how mental health and behavioral outcomes that stem from various traumatic experiences operate as mediating effects, and assess how these problems affect delinquency at various points in time. This dissertation relies on propositions from Agnew’s (1992) general strain theory to assess the negative outcomes of youth who experienced various traumatic life events. The mental health (i.e., depression) and behavioral health (i.e., risky health behaviors) of youth exposed to traumatic circumstances are analyzed along with the delinquent outcomes (i.e., violent crimes, property crimes, and substance use) commonly associated with negatively affected youth. These effects are examined for youth who experienced criminal victimization (i.e., violent and/or sexual assault, bullying, and victim of a burglary) and other traumatic incidents (i.e., vicarious victimization, death of a close family member, and the incarceration of a close family member). To examine the aforementioned causal processes, data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997 (NLSY97) were used to test a number of hypotheses. The overall results from this dissertation support Agnew’s (1992) general strain theory and suggest that the effect of multiple traumatic experiences influence various deleterious outcomes. More concisely, traumatic life events that occur early in life have both short- and long-term consequences for mental health, behavioral health, and delinquent outcomes. The mental health and behavioral health outcomes also mediate the relationship between traumatic life experiences and delinquency at various points in time. The results highlight a complex relationship between all of the aforementioned factors, and future research that focuses on youth exposed to traumatic events needs to account for the confounding effects of multiple traumas when assessing the negative outcomes of harmed individuals.