Witnessing domestic abuse in childhood as an independent risk factor for depressive symptoms in young adulthood

Child Abuse Negl. 2010 Jun;34(6):448-53. doi: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2009.10.004. Epub 2010 Apr 20.


Objective: This study addresses the relationship between retrospective reports of witnessing domestic abuse in childhood and levels of depressive symptoms in young adulthood. We examine whether the association between having witnessed violence in childhood and depression is independent of having been the direct target of sexual and/or physical abuse, as well as other characteristics and experiences linked with family violence.

Methods: We used two waves of data collected from a sample of 1,175 young adults (ages 20-24) in Miami, Florida. Retrospective self-reports of witnessed abuse and measures of family context and adversities were obtained in 1998-2000. The respondents' level of depressive symptoms was assessed 2 years later in 2000-2002.

Results: Multivariate results indicate that frequently having witnessed domestic abuse predicts higher levels of depressive symptoms in young adulthood, independently of other risk factors for depression and family violence.

Conclusion: Results provide preliminary evidence that frequent exposure to domestic abuse is an independent risk factor for depressive symptoms in young adulthood.

Practice implications: Results support a renewed call for (a) increased attention to depression among children exposed to adults' interpersonal violence, and (b) greater efforts to bridge prevention and intervention efforts regarding domestic violence and child maltreatment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Depression / epidemiology
  • Depression / etiology*
  • Depression / physiopathology*
  • Domestic Violence / psychology*
  • Female
  • Florida / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • User-Computer Interface
  • Young Adult