Depression, PTSD Risk Factors in Minority Communities Identified

UCLA researchers also developed a new screening tool for clinicians to assist them in diagnosing trauma and mental illness in this population.

Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles have identified five environmental factors that they say can predict depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in low-income minority communities. In addition, they developed a new screening to assist clinicians in making such diagnoses in this population.

Mental health issues disproportionately impact low-income African-American, Latinos and Hispanics, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Hector Myers, PhD, formerly of the UCLA Center for Culture, Trauma and Mental Health Disparities, and now with Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tenn., and colleagues examined the kinds of negative experiences that could impact poor African-Americans and Latinos. They asked 500 low-income African-American and Hispanic men and women to self-report on measures of stress and mental health, including childhood violence, poverty, trauma and discrimination.

The more adversities people faced and the burden of these experiences in their lifetime, the higher the risk they would develop more severe depression, anxiety and PTSD, the researchers reported in the journal Psychological Trauma.

The five environmental “domains” identified in the study that could predict mental illness later on are:

  • Experiences of discrimination due to racial, ethnic, gender or sexual orientation;
  • A history of sexual abuse;
  • A history of violence in the family or from an intimate partner;
  • A history of violence in an individual’s community;
  • A chronic fear of being killed or seriously injured

Honghu Liu, PhD, of UCLA’s School of Dentistry, and colleagues, then took those five domains and using regression modeling — a statistical process for estimating relationships among variables — developed a new screening tool called the UCLA Life Adversities Screener (LADS), a questionnaire for clinicians to help better screen for stress, trauma and mental illness in low-income minority communities. This separate research was published in the journal Psychological Assessment.

“Given the utility and ease of use, LADS could be effective as a screening tool to identify ethnic and racial minority individuals in primary care settings who have a high trauma burden, and who need more extensive evaluation,” Liu said in a statement. “We feel it will capture experiences that could be missed with current screening approaches.”


  1. Myers HF, et al. Cumulative burden of lifetime adversities: Trauma and mental health in low-SES African Americans and Latino/as. Psychol Trauma.  2015; 7(3): 243-251.
  2. Liu H, et al. Development of a Composite Trauma Exposure Risk Index. Psychol Assess. 2015;