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Background: Childhood adversity (CA), such as trauma or long-lasting stress, is strongly associated with mental health problems. Resilience factors (RFs) reduce the liability for mental health problems subsequent to CA. As mental health levels change over time, RFs may also change. Yet, knowledge on the latter is scarce. Therefore, we examined whether RF mean levels, RF interrelations, and RF pathways to distress change between early (age 14) and later adolescence (age 17).
Methods: We studied 10 empirically-supported RFs in adolescents with (CA+; n=638) and without CA (CA-; n=501). RF interrelations and RF-distress pathways were modelled using regularized partial correlation networks.
Results: The CA+ group had lower RFs and higher distress at both ages. All inter-personal RFs (e.g. friendships) showed stable mean levels between age 14 and 17, whereas five of seven intra-personal RFs (e.g. distress-tolerance) changed. All RF level changes were similar for adolescents with and without CA. Regarding RF interrelations we found that at age 14, but not at age 17, the RF network of the CA+ group was less positively connected, suggesting that the RFs are less likely to enhance each other than in the CA- group. Many negative direct pathways emerged between RFs and distress. Over time, the number of these pathways decreased from seven to five in the CA+, but increased from three to five in the CA- network. In the CA+ group these pathways may be less advantageous, as lower RFs are less likely to decrease higher distress.
Conclusion: Persistent lower RFs, higher distress, and potentially disadvantaged RF-distress pathways suggest that RFs in the CA+ group offer less protection against mental health problems. These findings may explain why exposure to CA has strong proximal effects, and is often found to have a lasting impact on mental health.
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