Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Social and Behavioral Health

First Advisor

Jessica Gokee LaRose

Second Advisor

Faye Z. Belgrave


With an estimated 37,000 new HIV infections each year, HIV continues to be a major public health concern. HIV affects some populations more than others. Young Black women, in particular, are disproportionately affected by HIV. While being a woman does not typically increase a person’s HIV risk, being Black and being a woman does.

Data indicate that individual-level factors do not fully address the differences in HIV and STIs between Black emerging adult women and their White counterparts. Thus, it is critical to better understand contextual factors such as social stress and mental-wellbeing which might better account for these disparities. To that end, the current study sought to answer the following questions: 1) Do depressive symptoms mediate the relationship between social stress (as measured by financial strain, perceived discrimination, and perceived neighborhood disorder) and sexual risk (as measured by condom use and number of partners)? 2) Does hope moderate the mediated relationship between social stress and sexual risk behaviors?

Path analysis was used to examine the relationship between social stress, depressive symptomology, hope, and sexual risk among Black women during emerging adulthood. Results showed discrimination significantly predicted depressive symptoms, whereas financial strain and perceived neighborhood disorder did not. Depressive symptoms significantly predicted condom use and number of partners. Depressive symptoms mediated the relationship between social stress and sexual risk behaviors. Consequently, hope did not moderate the relationship between social risk behaviors, depressive symptoms, and sexual risk behaviors.

Clinicians caring for Black women in emerging adulthood should be aware of the systemic, interpersonal, and cultural factors that contribute to the mental health of clients. Cultural competence training and education is imperative for anyone who engages with this population regularly including clinicians, university staff, administrators, and professors. Interventions and treatment should focus on healthy coping methods and education surrounding mental and sexual health.


© Brandi L. Galloway

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VCU Theses and Dissertations

Date of Submission