Childhood adversities and adult psychopathology in the WHO World Mental Health Surveys

Br J Psychiatry. 2010 Nov;197(5):378-85. doi: 10.1192/bjp.bp.110.080499.


Background: Although significant associations of childhood adversities with adult mental disorders are widely documented, most studies focus on single childhood adversities predicting single disorders.

Aims: To examine joint associations of 12 childhood adversities with first onset of 20 DSM-IV disorders in World Mental Health (WMH) Surveys in 21 countries.

Method: Nationally or regionally representative surveys of 51 945 adults assessed childhood adversities and lifetime DSM-IV disorders with the WHO Composite International Diagnostic Interview (CIDI).

Results: Childhood adversities were highly prevalent and interrelated. Childhood adversities associated with maladaptive family functioning (e.g. parental mental illness, child abuse, neglect) were the strongest predictors of disorders. Co-occurring childhood adversities associated with maladaptive family functioning had significant subadditive predictive associations and little specificity across disorders. Childhood adversities account for 29.8% of all disorders across countries.

Conclusions: Childhood adversities have strong associations with all classes of disorders at all life-course stages in all groups of WMH countries. Long-term associations imply the existence of as-yet undetermined mediators.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Adult Survivors of Child Abuse / psychology*
  • Adult Survivors of Child Abuse / statistics & numerical data
  • Age of Onset
  • Causality
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / psychology
  • Child Abuse / statistics & numerical data
  • Child of Impaired Parents / psychology*
  • Child of Impaired Parents / statistics & numerical data
  • Child, Preschool
  • Crime / statistics & numerical data
  • Epidemiologic Methods
  • Family Health
  • Family Relations*
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events*
  • Mental Disorders / classification
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology
  • Mental Disorders / psychology*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • World Health Organization
  • Young Adult