Association between childhood abuse and poor progression of emotional disorders in adulthood

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Andrea Danese, M.D., Ph.D.

Credit: Academy of Violence and Abuse

New data support the importance of considering both objective and subjective measures of child abuse when examining the effects of child abuse on the course of affective disorders. According to the study, the precise origins and underlying mechanisms linking childhood abuse and negative experiences of emotional disturbance remain poorly understood.1

Although objective experience alone did not significantly predict the adverse course of affective disorders, researchers noted the impact of subjective experience in a prospective cohort study.

Childhood abuse has been shown to influence adverse outcomes later in life, implicating it as a risk factor for emotional disorders such as depression and anxiety.2

Andrea Danese, M.D., Center for Social, Genetics and Developmental Psychiatry and Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King’s College London, and Relative Objective and Subjective Measures of Child Abuse Researchers aimed to assess the association and continuity between psychopathology and the course of affective disorders in adulthood.1

The prospective cohort of this study included nearly 1200 people up to age 40. Participants were residents of large Midwestern U.S. metropolitan counties with a documented record of childhood physical and sexual abuse and/or neglect between 1967 and 1971, and a They were divided into two groups, a demographically matched control group with no history of cancer. forget.

Current and lifetime psychopathology were also assessed at the same time points. To measure objective experience of child abuse, investigators used formal court records, while subjective experience was assessed by retrospective self-reports with a mean age of 29 years.

In a subjective experience analysis of childhood abuse, researchers found that depression and anxiety were more common in subsequent follow-up stages. However, similar associations were not shown based on objective experience of abuse measured through official court records.

The results showed that the group with both objective and subjective measures of child abuse had a significantly higher number of follow-up stages with depression or anxiety than the control group. . Similarly, researchers found higher rates of affective disorders in individuals who only measured subjectivity.

Those who took only objective measures did not show an increased risk of depression or anxiety. An association was observed between the subjective experience of abuse and the subsequent course of affective disturbances influenced by the presence of current and lifetime psychopathology.

This study reported that it was evident in participants who did not have an objective measure of abuse, suggesting that the subjective experience is partly explained by the psychopathological continuum. .

The results of this study provided valuable insight into the role of subjective experience in the association between childhood abuse and the course of emotional disorders in adulthood. The data indicated that modifying the subjective experience of childhood abuse could potentially ameliorate the long-term course of affective disorders.

Interventions targeting subjective perceptions and psychological effects of abuse may be beneficial in reducing the burden of emotional disorders in individuals with a history of childhood abuse, the study notes.

The existence of current and lifetime psychopathology is a comprehensive study addressing both objective and subjective aspects of child abuse to facilitate improved mental health in individuals affected by early adversity. Findings that underscore the need for evaluation and targeted interventions further contributed to this association.


  1. Danese A, Widham CS. Associations between objective and subjective experiences of childhood abuse and the course of emotional disturbance in adulthood. JAMA Psychiatry. Published online on July 5, 2023. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2023.2140
  2. Iapoce C. Personality disorders present in children after emotional abuse. HCP Live. May 2, 2021.

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