DEVELOPMENTAL TIMING OF CHILD MALTREATMENT AND SYMPTOMS OF DEPRESSION AND SUICIDAL IDEATION IN YOUNG ADULTHOOD: RESULTS FROM THE NATIONAL LONGITUDINAL STUDY OF ADOLESCENT HEALTH

Authors

  • Erin C. Dunn Sc.D., M.P.H.,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts
    2. Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research, The Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT, Cambridge, Massachusetts
    • Center for Human Genetic Research, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts
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  • Katie A. McLaughlin Ph.D.,

    1. Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts
    2. Department of Psychiatry, Division of General Pediatrics, Boston Children's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts
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  • Natalie Slopen Sc.D.,

    1. Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts
    2. Department of Society, Human Development, and Health, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts
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  • Jonathan Rosand M.D., M.Sc.,

    1. Center for Human Genetic Research, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts
    2. Department of Neurology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts
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  • Jordan W. Smoller M.D., Sc.D.

    1. Center for Human Genetic Research, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts
    2. Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts
    3. Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research, The Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT, Cambridge, Massachusetts
    4. Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts
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  • Contract grant sponsor: National Institute of Health; Contract grant number: K24MH094614.

Correspondence to: Erin C. Dunn, Psychiatric and Neurodevelopmental Genetics Unit, Center for Human Genetic Research, Massachusetts General Hospital, 185 Cambridge Street, Simches Research Building, 6th Floor (room no. 6.236), Boston, MA 02114. E-mail: erindunn@pngu.mgh.harvard.edu.

Abstract

Background

Child maltreatment is a potent risk factor for psychopathology. Although the developmental timing of first exposure to maltreatment is considered important in shaping risk of future psychopathology, no consensus exists on whether earlier or later exposures are more deleterious. This study examines whether age at first exposure to abuse is associated with subsequent depression and suicidal ideation.

Methods

Data were drawn from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (n = 15,701). Timing of first maltreatment exposure was classified using: (1) a crude measure capturing early childhood (ages 0–5), middle childhood (ages 6–10), or adolescence (ages 11–17); and (2) a refined measure capturing infancy (ages 0–2), preschool (ages 3–5), latency (ages 6–8), prepubertal (ages 9–10), pubertal (ages 11–13), or adolescence (ages 14–17). We examined whether timing of first exposure was associated with depression and suicidal ideation in early adulthood in the entire sample and among those exposed to maltreatment.

Results

Respondents exposed to abuse, particularly physical abuse, at any age had a higher odds of depression and suicidal ideation in young adulthood than nonmaltreated respondents. Among maltreated respondents, exposure during early childhood (ages 0–5), particularly preschool (ages 3–5), was most strongly associated with depression. Respondents first exposed to physical abuse during preschool had a 77% increase in the odds of depression and those first exposed to sexual abuse during early childhood had a 146% increase in the odds of suicidal ideation compared to respondents maltreated as adolescents.

Conclusions

Developmental timing of first exposure to maltreatment influences risk for depression and suicidal ideation. Whether these findings are evidence for biologically based sensitive periods requires further study.

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