Adult onset of major depressive disorder in relation to early life violent victimisation: a case-control study

Lancet. 2001 Sep 15;358(9285):881-7. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(01)06072-X.


Background: Major depressive disorder is a significant cause of morbidity among women in the USA. Women are twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with major depressive disorder, yet no known risk factors can account for this sex difference. We aimed to assess violent victimisation as a risk factor for depression in women.

Methods: We undertook a case-control study to assess the association between violent victimisation early in life and major depressive disorder in women. We randomly selected a population-based sample of women, aged 36-45 years, from the greater Boston area. In 1999, 236 cases and 496 controls (n=732) completed a self-administered questionnaire designed to ascertain a lifetime history of exposure to violent victimisation. Our main outcome measure was major depressive disorder, assessed by structured clinical interview for Diagnostic Statistical Manual IV (DSM-IV) criteria.

Findings: 363 (50%) of 732 respondents reported experience or fear of abuse as a child or adolescent. 68 were excluded because they reported violence as an adult only. Compared with women who reported no abuse, risk of depression was increased in women who reported any abuse as a child or adolescent (relative risk 2.5, 95% CI 1.9-3.0), physical abuse only (2.4, 1.8-3.0), sexual abuse only (1.8, 1.2-2.8), and both physical and sexual abuse (3.3, 2.5-4.1). Severity of abuse had a linear dose-response relation with depression.

Interpretation: Our results suggest a positive association between violent victimisation early in life and major depressive disorder in women.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Child
  • Child Abuse*
  • Depressive Disorder / etiology*
  • Educational Status
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Income
  • Marital Status
  • Middle Aged
  • Prevalence
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Violence