A biosocial perspective on poverty and the early-life origins of mental health : the effects of timing and associated chains of risk

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A biosocial perspective on poverty and the early-life origins of mental health : the effects of timing and associated chains of risk

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Title: A biosocial perspective on poverty and the early-life origins of mental health : the effects of timing and associated chains of risk
Author: McFarland, Michael Jason
Abstract: The poor disproportionately bear the burden of diminished mental health. Despite the pronounced prevalence of these iniquitous disparities, researchers lack a comprehensive understanding of their origins and also the requisite knowledge to reduce or eliminate them. Past studies have largely focused on adult precursors and trajectories of change but have largely neglected the early-life origins, timing, and consequent chains of risk associated with mental health. This dissertation examines these elements and also considers the early-life origins of mental health in a novel way by integrating sociological-based frameworks with biosocial ones. More specifically, this dissertation examines the sensitive periods and chains of risk by which mental health problems develop or persist over time and provides clues as to when and how poverty exerts its noxious effect on mental health. This dissertation employs two national datasets: the Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development and the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health to assess these issues. Viewed in tandem these datasets span from approximately ages 0 to 30 and provide an especially apropos opportunity to examine the early-life origins of mental health. This dissertation found five particularly important results. First poverty experienced in infancy had lasting effects on awakening cortisol – a marker of hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis functioning. HPA dysregualtion, in turn, is thought to be related to a host of mental health disorders. Second poverty experienced in infancy had a pernicious effect on internalizing and externalizing behaviors in adolescence, net of poverty experienced at other points in time. Third, poverty experienced in adolescence was of particular importance compared to poverty exposure at other ages in shaping mental health in young adulthood. Fourth, poverty experienced during sensitive periods acted as a catalyst that set in motion a number of complex chains of risk that proliferated over time. Fifth there were meaningful gender differences in regards to both timing and chains of risk. Overall, these results underscore the need for both theoretical and empirical models that span from infancy to adulthood
Department: Sociology
Subject: Mental health Poverty Biosocial Early life
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/2152/ETD-UT-2012-08-5920
Date: 2012-08

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