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Strengths and Vulnerabilities of Women of Mexican Descent in Relation to Depressive Symptoms

Heilemann, MarySue V.; Lee, Kathryn A.; Kury, Felix Salvador


Background The majority of research related to depression among women of Mexican descent has focused on risk factors and resources without considering intrinsic strength factors that may have a protective function. An additional focus on mastery, resilience, and life satisfaction will expand the context for understanding the mental health of women of Mexican descent.

Objectives This study describes the level of depressive symptoms experienced by low-income women of Mexican descent living in an urban community in northern California and compares the level of symptoms by exposure to the United States (US) during childhood. Rather than focus only on negative demographic characteristics (such as lower socioeconomic status) associated with high levels of depressive symptoms, this study also focused on strengths and resources that may minimize or modify depressive symptoms.

Methods Questionnaires were completed by a cross-sectional convenience sample of 315 women of Mexican descent, aged 21–40 years. Data were analyzed using descriptive statistics and multiple regression.

Results Women who spent all of their childhood years in Mexico before coming to the US had a lower level of depressive symptoms (p < .05) and more satisfaction with life than women who were exposed to the US in childhood (p = .001). While income, adequacy of financial resources, partner status, alcohol use, and childhood exposure to the US accounted for 13% of the variance in depressive symptoms, intrinsic strength factors such as mastery, life satisfaction, and resilience accounted for an additional 31% of the variance (p < .001).

Discussion Although intrinsic strength factors have rarely been included in research related to depression in women of Mexican descent, they were more directly related to lack of depressive symptoms than traditional demographic risk factors.

MarySue V. Heilemann, PhD, RN, is Assistant Professor, University of California, Los Angeles, School of Nursing.

Kathryn A. Lee, PhD, RN, is Professor, University of California, San Francisco, School of Nursing.

Felix Salvador Kury, MS, MFT, is Lecturer, San Francisco State University, College of Ethnic Studies, La Raza Studies Department.

Accepted for publication February 28, 2002.

This research was supported by a Nursing Research Training Post Doctoral Fellowship for the first author at the Center for Symptom Management, University of California, San Francisco, Grant #5-T32-NR07088.

The authors thank Pratima Bhuttarowas, PhD, RN, who assisted in data entry, the clinic and school staff who facilitated recruitment, and all of the women who participated in this study.

Corresponding author: MarySue V. Heilemann, PhD, RN, UCLA School of Nursing, Factor Bldg., Rm 5-946, Box 956919, Los Angeles, CA 90095-6919 (e-mail:

© 2002 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.