The specificity of childhood adversities and negative life events across the life span to anxiety and depressive disorders

J Affect Disord. 2010 Oct;126(1-2):103-12. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2010.02.132. Epub 2010 Mar 20.


Background: Although several studies have shown that life adversities play an important role in the etiology and maintenance of both depressive and anxiety disorders, little is known about the relative specificity of several types of life adversities to different forms of depressive and anxiety disorder and the concurrent role of neuroticism. Few studies have investigated whether clustering of life adversities or comorbidity of psychiatric disorders critically influence these relationships.

Methods: Using data from the Netherlands Study of Depression and Anxiety (NESDA), we analyzed the association of childhood adversities and negative life experiences across the lifespan with lifetime DSM-IV-based diagnoses of depression or anxiety among 2288 participants with at least one affective disorder.

Results: Controlling for comorbidity and clustering of adversities the association of childhood adversity with affective disorders was greater than that of negative life events across the life span with affective disorders. Among childhood adversities, emotional neglect was specifically associated with depressive disorder, dysthymia, and social phobia. Persons with a history of emotional neglect and sexual abuse were more likely to develop more than one lifetime affective disorder. Neuroticism and current affective disorder did not affect the adversity-disorder relationships found.

Limitations: Using a retrospective study design, causal interpretations of the relationships found are not warranted.

Conclusions: Emotional neglect seems to be differentially related to depression, dysthymia and social phobia. This knowledge may help to reduce underestimation of the impact of emotional abuse and lead to better recognition and treatment to prevent long-term disorders.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult Survivors of Child Abuse / psychology
  • Anxiety Disorders / etiology*
  • Anxiety Disorders / psychology
  • Depressive Disorder / etiology*
  • Depressive Disorder / psychology
  • Dysthymic Disorder / etiology
  • Dysthymic Disorder / psychology
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events
  • Logistic Models
  • Mood Disorders / etiology
  • Mood Disorders / psychology
  • Odds Ratio
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Stress, Psychological / complications*