Water Contaminant Levels Interact with Parenting Environment to Predict Development of Depressive Symptoms in Adolescents

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College of Arts Humanities and Social Sciences, Psychology


Depressive symptoms, Environmental contamination, Family relationships, Lead, Psychological health, Water quality


Contaminants in drinking water, such as lead, nitrate, and arsenic, have been linked to negative physical health outcomes. We know less, however, about whether such pollutants also predict mental health problems and, if so, the conditions under which such effects are strongest. In this longitudinal study, we examined whether drinking water contaminants interact with negative family environments (parental psychological control) to predict changes in depressive symptoms in 110 adolescents—a developmental period when symptoms often first emerge. We found that for adolescents in psychologically controlling families, levels of drinking water contaminants prospectively predicted depressive symptoms 2 years later; this effect was not present in adolescents in non‐controlling families. Importantly, these associations were not accounted for by family‐ or community‐level socioeconomic resources, demographic features, or by the adolescents’ stress exposure. These findings highlight the interplay of physical and psychological environments in influencing depressive symptoms in adolescents.

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