Witnessing Violence Versus Experiencing Violence: Effects on Psychological Distress

Paul A. Muller


Based on secondary analysis of data from a sample of 649 individuals attending one of three New England colleges in the United States, this study examines the links between childhood exposure to violence and young adult depression. Assessment of the relative impact on depression of adversity experienced through direct personal victimization and adversity experienced through witnessing the violent victimization of others was made in an attempt to identify mechanisms by which each affects psychological distress. It was hypothesized that childhood adversity exhibits effects on psychological distress in young adulthood, at least in part, through its damaging impact on the development of social and personal resources—specifically, by affecting a reduction in family support, peer support, self-esteem, and mastery. Further, it was hypothesized that the importance of these mediators in explaining the link to depression of adversity differs between personally experiencing victimization and witnessing the victimization of others. Findings indicate that witnessing the violent victimization of intimates has effects on depression equal to personally experiencing the same type of victimization. Further, the most important mediators of the relationship to depression of violence personally experienced were family support, peer support, and self-esteem; but the most important mediator of the relationship to depression of violence witnessed was mastery. Also, the combined mediating effect of the resource variables is greater for violence experienced than it is for violence witnessed. These findings suggest that the mechanisms involved in the translation of adversity to depression do vary somewhat by the type of adversity experienced.

DOI: 10.5901/mjss.2016.v7n3s1p11

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Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences ISSN 2039-9340(Print) ISSN 2039-2117(Online)

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