Economic Hardship, Parent Positive Communication and Mental Health in Urban Adolescents Seeking Outpatient Psychiatric Care

Erin M. Rodriguez, Sara R. Nichols, Shabnam Javdani, Erin Emerson, Geri R. Donenberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Economic hardship and poor parenting behaviors are associated with increased risk for mental health problems in community adolescents. However, less is known about the impact of socioeconomic status (SES) and parenting behaviors on youth at elevated risk for mental health problems, such as teens seeking outpatient psychiatric care. This study examined whether family SES and parent positive communication were directly and indirectly associated with mental health symptoms 6 months later in urban teens seeking outpatient treatment, after accounting for baseline levels of symptoms. At baseline, adolescent participants (N = 346; 42 % female; 61 % African-American) ages 12–19 years old (M = 14.9; SD = 1.8) and their primary caregivers reported on SES and teen internalizing and externalizing symptoms and engaged in a videotaped discussion of a real-life conflict to assess parent positive communication. At 6-month follow-up, 81 % (N = 279) of families were retained and teens and caregivers again reported internalizing and externalizing symptoms. Structural equation modeling (SEM) was used to test the hypothesized models with a sample of 338, using the full information likelihood method to adjust for missing data. For parent-reported externalizing symptoms, SEM revealed support for the indirect association of SES with follow-up externalizing symptoms via parent positive communication and externalizing symptoms at baseline. For parent reported internalizing symptoms, there was a direct association between SES and follow-up internalizing symptoms, but not an indirect effect via parent positive communication. Youth-reported symptoms were not associated with SES nor with parent positive communication. Current findings extend prior research on adolescent mental health in a diverse sample of urban youth seeking outpatient psychiatric care. These families may benefit from interventions that directly target SES-related difficulties and parent positive communication.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)617-627
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Child and Family Studies
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2015


  • Adolescent
  • Mental health
  • Parent-adolescent communication
  • SES
  • Urban

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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