Cumulative risk exposure and emotional symptoms among early adolescent girls

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From early adolescence, girls and women report the highest rates of emotional symptoms, and there is evidence of increased prevalence in recent years. We investigate risk factors and cumulative risk exposure (CRE) in relation to emotional symptoms among early adolescent girls.

We used secondary data analysis, drawing on data capturing demographic information and self-reported emotional symptoms from 8327 girls aged 11–12 years from the 2017 baseline data collection phase of the HeadStart evaluation. We used structural equation modelling to identify risk factors in relation to self-reported emotional symptoms, and collated this into a CRE index to investigate associations between CRE and emotional symptoms.

Four risk factors were found to have a statistically significant relationship with emotional symptoms among early adolescent girls: low academic attainment, special educational needs, low family income, and caregiving responsibilities. CRE was positively associated with emotional symptoms, with a small effect size.

Results identify risk factors (outlined above) that are associated with emotional symptoms among early adolescent girls, and highlight that early adolescent girls experiencing a greater number of risk factors in their lives are likely to also experience greater emotional distress. Findings highlight the need for identification and targeted mental health intervention (e.g., individual or group counselling, approaches targeting specific symptoms), for those facing greater risk and/or with emergent symptoms.
Original languageEnglish
Article number388
JournalBMC Women's Health
Early online date5 Nov 2021
Publication statusPublished - 5 Nov 2021


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