Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Dr. Stephen Magura

Second Advisor

Dr. Chris Coryn

Third Advisor

Dr. Katharine Cummings

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Kieran Fogarty


Social capital [youth], adolescent mental illness, depression, substance abuse, evaluation


Mental illness has been described as a “global burden of disease,” and depression accounts for a large part of the burden (Aslund, Starrin, Nilsson, 2010). In 2009, 35.7 percent of the adolescent population in the United States who reported past-year symptoms of a major depressive episode, for example, feelings of sadness, discouragement, loss of feelings of self-worth, and loss of interest in social activities, also used illicit drugs including marijuana, inhalants, hallucinogens, cocaine, heroin, and prescription-type psychotherapeutics for non-medical purposes (SAMHSA, 2009, APA, 1994). Additionally, substance abuse due to alcoholism was among the major causes of death for adolescents aged 12 to 17 (National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (NCCDPHP), 2004; Burnner, Marmot, 1999).

Studies of mental illness in adolescents indicate that there is significant association between social isolation, or lack of social capital, substance abuse, and depressive symptomatology (Fitzpatrick, Wright, Piko, LaGory, 2005; Winstanley, Steinwachs, Ensminger, Latkin, Sttitzer, and Olsen, 2008). Youths’ social capital defined as his or her relationships with the family, peers, friends, and community; trust, care, empathy, and norms of reciprocity (Putman, 2000), may be vital for predicting substance abuse and depression. On the other hand, social capital may be a source of protection from threats of substance abuse and depression in adolescents (Fitzpatrick, et al, 2005; Henry, 2004).

This dissertation research utilized cross-sectional data from the National Survey of Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) (2009) to examine theoretical constructs such as youth social capital, depression, and substance abuse. It utilized structural equation modeling (SEM) to investigate whether youth social structural and cognitive social capital predicted the likelihood of substance abuse and depression in adolescents. The findings indicated that youth structural and cognitive social capital seems to associate with substance abuse and depression. In combination with youth structural and cognitive social capital, substance abuse also seemed to co-exist with depression. Also, substance abuse appears to transmit causal effects or partially mediates the association between youth structural/cognitive social capital and depression in the sample of adolescents studied. The implications of the study for evaluation research, theory, practice, and policy are considered and discussed.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access