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The Impact of Acculturation, Close Friendship Quality, and Personality Traits on the Mental Health Problems of Korean American Adolescents


Statement of the Problem: Korean American adolescents are a population that may be particularly vulnerable to mental health problems because of the potential cultural conflicts they face during an important developmental period. Yet little is known about their mental health problems or their risk and protective factors. The purposes of this study were to examine 1) the prevalence of various mental health problems among Korean American adolescents; 2) the degree to which acculturation, close friendship quality, and personality traits are associated with their mental health problems; and 3) whether personality traits moderate any effect of acculturation and close friendship quality on their problems.

Methods and Procedures: This cross-sectional study included 138 Korean American adolescents from community settings in California. A demographic questionnaire, the Stephenson Multigroup Acculturation Scale, the Relationship Quality Questionnaire, the NEO Five-Factor Inventory-3, and the Youth Self Report were completed by adolescents. Descriptive analyses and hierarchical regression analyses were used to examine the aims.

Findings: Results indicate that 18% of the Korean American adolescents experienced clinically significant mental health problems. Most problems were of the internalizing type such as anxiety and depression where almost 23% of the youth reached the cutoff for clinical significance. Personality traits of neuroticism (sensitivity/emotional instability) and less agreeableness (difficulty getting along with others) were significant predictors of more mental health problems, whereas acculturation and close friendship quality were not significant predictors. Two personality traits moderated the effects of acculturation and close friendship on mental health. For adolescents who valued new and diverse experience (openness), greater acculturation was a protective factor for their mental health. For adolescents who had difficulty getting along with others (less agreeable), an emotionally supportive friendship reduced the likelihood of mental health problems. Findings indicate the need to examine effects of acculturation and close relationships on specific mental health problems, especially depression, among subgroups of Korean youth with particular personality traits. Results also suggest the need for depression and anxiety screening as part of health care for Korean American youth. In addition, assessment of their personality traits should be considered as important risk factors for mental health problems.

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