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Stressful Life Events and Their Unique Associations with Psychosocial Outcomes: a Gendered Analysis Among High School Adolescents



There is substantial evidence linking stressful life events (SLEs) in childhood to poor mental health later in life, but few studies explore how various types of SLEs differentially impact mental health. The purpose of this study is to assess associations between SLEs and psychosocial outcomes in a diverse adolescent population in the USA and to examine whether and how these relationships are gendered.


The sample comprises 181 high school students ages 13–21 years in Harrisonburg, Virginia. This study analyzed associations between 12 SLEs and eight psychosocial outcomes using ordinary least-squares and logistic regressions. Relationships were estimated for the full sample and for males and females, separately.


For boys, having ever been forced to leave one’s family was associated with declines in resilience (B = − 4.646; 95% CI (− 8.79, − 0.50)) and increases in externalizing symptoms (B = 0.392; 95% CI (0.15, 0.63)). Furthermore, boys who experienced a drastic change in their family reported lower levels of school belonging (B = − 9.272; 95% CI (− 17.45, − 1.09)). For girls, having ever been forced to leave one’s family was associated with decreases in depressive (B = − 0.961; 95% CI (− 1.88, − 0.05)) and anxiety symptomology (B = − 0.868; 95% CI (− 1.68, − 0.06)). Overall, students who experienced a life-threatening emergency exhibited greater depressive (B = 0.445; 95% CI (0.15, 0.74)) and anxiety symptoms (B = 0.287; 95% CI (0.05, 0.52)), and depressive symptomology was also associated with having ever been physically hurt by someone (B = 0.224; 95% CI (0.01, 0.44)).


Findings provide insights into how exposures might engender different mental health processes and outcomes, and how these processes may manifest differently across gender.

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Data Availability

The datasets generated and/or analyzed during the current study are not publicly available due to IRB restrictions but are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.



stressful life event


adverse childhood experiences


post-traumatic stress disorder


Harrisonburg High School


Children’s Hope Scale


Child and Youth Resilience Measure


Psychological Sense of School Membership


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The authors are grateful for the support of the study participants, school and community partners, and the QFI team.


This work was supported by Qatar Foundation International (QFI). The funders contributed to study design, but did not contribute to data collection, analysis, publication decision, or manuscript preparation.

Author information




LS and CA designed the study; LS and IS conducted field data collection, with support from JA; IS led data analysis; LS, IS, and FC led the development of the manuscript, with contributions from CA and JA; All authors approved the final manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Lindsay Stark.

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Ethical approval was provided by Columbia University’s Institutional Review Board (AAAR7830).

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The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Consent to participate

The study employed an opt-out consent approach. Consent forms were mailed to the caregivers of all students, caregivers that did not wish for their children to participate were asked to return their form indicating this decision to HHS. Written assent was obtained from students in person; assent for participation in the survey and permission to access academic records were obtained separately.

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Stark, L., Seff, I., Cohen, F. et al. Stressful Life Events and Their Unique Associations with Psychosocial Outcomes: a Gendered Analysis Among High School Adolescents. Glob Soc Welf (2020).

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  • Adolescents
  • Mental health
  • Adverse childhood experiences
  • Gender