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Keywords:

  • older adults;
  • Israelis;
  • mental health;
  • cumulative adversity;
  • traumatic events;
  • depression;
  • self-oriented adversity;
  • other-oriented adversity

This study addressed the association between adversity cumulated at different points in the life span and present mental health. Data of 1,130 participants aged 50+ were drawn from the Israeli component of the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE). Measures included an inventory of potentially traumatic events, mental distress (depressive symptoms), and well-being (quality of life, life satisfaction). Adversity reported to have occurred early in life was positively related to mental health (i.e., to lower distress and higher well-being), whereas adversity reported to occur in late life was negatively related (i.e., to higher distress and lower well-being). Additional analyses showed that the positive association between early-life adversity and mental health was mainly restricted to adversity in which the primary harm was to another person (other-oriented adversity). In contrast, the negative association between late-life adversity and mental health was mainly restricted to adversity in which the primary harm was to the self (self-oriented adversity). This study suggests that the differential association between cumulative adversity and mental health is best captured when accounting for both time of occurrence and adversity type.