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Early adversity and depressive symptoms among early adolescent girls: the mediating role of exposure to recent interpersonal acute stress

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 November 2021

Catherine B. Stroud*
Department of Psychology, Williams College, Williamstown, MA, USA
Frances R. Chen
Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology, Georgia State University, Atlanta, GA, USA
Erin E. Dunning
Department of Psychology, Williams College, Williamstown, MA, USA Department of Psychology, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA, USA
Julia Cheng
Department of Psychology, Williams College, Williamstown, MA, USA Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, NY, USA
Carey Marr
Department of Psychology, Williams College, Williamstown, MA, USA Department of Clinical Psychological Science, Maastricht University, Maastricht, The Netherlands
Suzanne Vrshek-Schallhorn
Department of Psychology, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Greensboro, NC, USA
Corresponding author: Catherine Stroud, email:


Early adversity confers risk for depression in part through its association with recent (i.e., proximal) acute stress. However, it remains unresolved whether: a) early adversity predicts increases in recent acute stress over time; b) all – or only certain types – of recent events mediate the relationship between early adversity and depression; and c) early adversity places individuals at greater risk for depression via greater exposure to independent (i.e., fateful) interpersonal events or via greater generation of dependent (i.e., partially self-initiated) interpersonal events (i.e., stress generation) or both. These questions were examined in a 3-wave longitudinal study of early adolescent girls (N = 125; M = 12.35 years [SD = .77]) with no history of diagnosable depression using contextual life stress and diagnostic interviews. Path analyses indicated that increases in past-year acute interpersonal, but not non-interpersonal, stress mediated the link between early adversity and depressive symptoms. The mediating role of interpersonal events was limited to independent ones, suggesting increases in interpersonal event exposure, not interpersonal stress generation, acted as a mediator. Finally, findings support prior evidence that early adversity may not directly predict future depressive symptoms. Implications for understanding the role of recent stress in the association between early adversity and adolescent depression are discussed.

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© The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press

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