Childhood Adversity to Adulthood Depression

From left, assistant professors Allison Appleton, Tomoko Udo and Melissa Tracy discuss their recent research finding that children who face adversity are significantly more likely to suffer from depression in adulthood. Photo by Patrick Dodson.

ALBANY, N.Y. (May 30, 2019) – Children who face adversity are at a significantly greater risk for severe depression, research out of the School of Public Health (SPH) finds.

Published in Depression and Anxiety, the official journal of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, assistant professors Melissa Tracy, Allison Appleton and Tomoko Udo explain that more than half of adults report one or more adverse childhood events, such as parental mental health problems or financial hardship. This adversity has long been associated with depression in later life, but until now the timing of the adversity in relation to depression has been unclear.

The researchers, from SPH’s departments of Epidemiology and Biostatistics and Health Policy, Management and Behavior, identified trajectories of adversity from birth through late childhood and examined the long-term effects on depression outcomes using data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children — an ongoing population-based prospective cohort study that enrolled pregnant women in southwestern England whose delivery dates were between April 1, 1991 and December 31, 1992.

Children in the study completed a computerized assessment at age 18 that was used to determine the symptoms and severity of their depression while their parents filled out questionnaires on adverse events and household characteristics throughout their childhoods. These assessments were used to create five trajectory groups that reflect levels and changes in adversity from birth through age 11.

The results showed that the children in groups with higher levels of adversity had a higher risk of depression — and severity of depression — regardless of when the adversity took place.

“This classification of children according to the accumulation, timing, and persistence of adversity shows that regular, periodic screening for adversity throughout childhood could help to identify children at the greatest risk for depression,” said Tracy. “This could allow for intervention programs that would reduce the negative consequences of childhood adversity,” she continued.

To read the full study, visit the online journal article.

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