Few prospective longitudinal studies have examined the relationship between abuse or neglect in childhood and depression in adulthood.
To determine whether abused and neglected children were at elevated risk of major depressive disorder (MDD) and psychiatric comorbidity, compared with matched control subjects, when followed up into young adulthood.
Prospective cohort design study.
Midwestern metropolitan county area.
Children with substantiated cases of physical and sexual abuse and neglect (before the age of 11 years) from January 1, 1967, to December 31, 1971 (n = 676) were matched based on age, race, sex, and approximate family social class with a group of nonabused and nonneglected children (n = 520) and followed up into young adulthood (mean age, 28.7 years).
Main Outcomes Measures
Between October 20, 1989, and December 22, 1995, 2-hour in-person interviews were conducted, using the National Institute of Mental Health Diagnostic Interview Schedule, Version III Revised, to determine DSM-III-R MDD and other psychiatric diagnoses.
Child abuse and neglect were associated with an increased risk for current MDD (odds ratio [OR], 1.51; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.06-2.14; P≤.05) in young adulthood. Children who were physically abused (OR, 1.59; 95% CI, 1.00-2.52; P≤.05) or experienced multiple types of abuse (OR, 1.75; 95% CI, 1.01-3.02; P≤.05) were at increased risk of lifetime MDD, whereas neglect increased risk for current MDD (OR, 1.59; 95% CI, 1.10-2.29; P<.01). Childhood sexual abuse was not associated with elevated risk of MDD. Kaplan-Meier age-of-onset curves (log-rank statistic, 4.03; df = 1; P=.04) showed earlier onset of MDD for abused and neglected children compared with controls. Among those with MDD, comorbidity was higher for abused and neglected individuals than for controls.
These results support the need for clinicians to increase efforts to detect and treat depression in physically abused and neglected children.