Historical trauma and social support as predictors of psychological stress responses in American Indian adults during the COVID-19 pandemic

J Psychosom Res. 2020 Oct 2;139:110263. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychores.2020.110263. Online ahead of print.


BACKGROUND: American Indians (AIs) live with historical trauma, or the cumulative emotional and psychological wounding that is passed from one generation to the next in response to the loss of lives and culture. Psychological consequences of historical trauma may contribute to health disparities.

PURPOSE: Here, we investigate whether historical trauma predicts changes in psychological stress associated with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in AI adults. Based on the stress-sensitization theory, we hypothesize that greater historical trauma will predict greater increases in levels of psychological stress from before the onset of the pandemic to after.

METHOD: Our analytic sample consisted of 205 AI adults. We measured historical trauma and levels of psychological stress before and after the onset of the pandemic.

RESULTS: Using hierarchical regression models controlling for age, biological sex, income, symptoms of depression and anxiety, psychological stress at Time 1, COVID-19 specific stress, and childhood trauma, we found that greater historical trauma preceding the pandemic predicted greater increases in psychological stress (β = 0.38, t = 5.17 p < .01, ΔR2 = 0.12), and levels of social support interacted with historical trauma to predict changes in psychological stress (β = -0.19, t = -3.34, p = .001, ΔR2 = 0.04). The relationship between historical trauma and changes in stress was significant for individuals with low levels of social support.

CONCLUSIONS: Historical trauma may contribute to AI mental health disparities, through heightened psychological stress responses to life stressors and social support appears to moderate this relationship.

PMID:33038816 | PMC:PMC7531919 | DOI:10.1016/j.jpsychores.2020.110263