Violence has become a major mental health and public health problem in the United States. There already exists a known link between violence trauma and mental health through the studies of combat and rape victims. However, very little is known about the effect of violence and trauma on the mental health of general psychiatric populations. The goal of this study was to: (1) develop a better picture of mental health/mental illness in African-American women, (2) examine the influence of exposure to violence and trauma upon mental health, and (3) to assess the efficacy of using a semi-structured diagnostic tool to determine the rate of Axis I disorders in an urban African-American female sample. Data were collected by eight self. administered questionnaires, in-depth clinical assessment using the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV and the Victimization Screening Form. The fifty-five individuals interviewed in this study were between the ages of 35–55 years, unemployed, single, and had a high school education or less. Sixty-four percent of the women met criteria for a current mood or anxiety disorder. Thirty-three percent met criteria for a current psychotic disorder. Fifty-one percent met criteria for PTSD. Fourteen women reported having been exposed to at least three traumas during their lifetime. Seven women reported being victims of childhood sexual assault, twelve were victims of sexual assault, six were victims of physical assault, and eight women had significant others who were murdered. Hierarchal regression was used to examine a model Consisting of diagnostic burden, exposure to violence and trauma and mental health well-being. Findings suggest that diagnostic burden and exposure to violence and trauma are predictors of poor mental health well-being when present. Exposure to violence and trauma appears to have a moderating effect on an individual's well-being. These findings further suggest that the use of a screening and assessment tool for violence and trauma exposure may have important clinical implications in providing appropriate mental health services to African-American women.
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