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Rates of suicide among African American youth are increasing faster than any other ethnic group (Bridge et al., 2015). With mental illness associated with suicide rates, it is essential to understand how symptoms manifest during adolescence. Although the association between maternal depression and poor adolescent adjustment is well established, there is a dearth of evidence examining the impact of maternal alexithymia on adolescent adjustment, particularly among low-income youth. The goal of the study was to elucidate the role of maternal alexithymia (difficulty understanding and expressing emotion) in the association between maternal depressive symptoms and adolescent adjustment within a sample of low-income urban youth.

Data from the current sample were drawn from Project COPE, a 4-year longitudinal study of low-income urban youth from the eastern United States. The analytic sample consisted of youth (N = 351, Mage=12.20 years, SD=0.68 years at baseline) and their maternal caregivers from Time 1 of the study. The youth identified as 91% African American and 53% male. Maternal depression and Alexithymia was assessed using self-reports from the Brief Symptoms Inventory and the Toronto-Alexithymia scale respectively. Adolescent adjustment (anxiety and depressive symptoms) was assessed via caregiver reports from the Child Behavior Checklist. Results from moderation analyses revealed that maternal alexithymia moderated the association between maternal depression and perceived adolescent adjustment. Specifically, the association between maternal depressive symptoms and decreased perception of youth’s adjustment was stronger in mothers with high alexithymia. These findings illustrate the negative impact of maternal alexithymia on youth adjustment and subsequent poor outcomes.

Publication Date


Subject Major(s)



Alexithymia, Maternal Depression, Child Adjustment, Depression


Child Psychology | Developmental Psychology

Current Academic Year


Faculty Advisor/Mentor

Dr. Wendy Kliewer


© The Author(s)

Alexithymia Moderates the Association Between Maternal Depressive Symptoms and Perceived Adolescent Adjustment