The "long arm" of childhood health: linking childhood disability to late midlife mental health

Res Aging. 2015 Jan;37(1):82-102. doi: 10.1177/0164027514522276. Epub 2014 Feb 23.


A growing body of research underscores the early origins of health in later life; however, relatively little is known about the relationship between childhood physical health and adult mental health. This research explores the relationship between childhood disability and depressive symptoms among a nationally representative sample of late midlife adults (N = 3,572). Using data from Waves 8-10 (2006-2010) of the Health and Retirement Study, a series of ordinary least squares regression models were created to assess the number of depressive symptoms. Childhood disability was significantly associated with higher levels of depressive symptoms; however, late midlife social and health factors accounted for differences between those with and without childhood disability. Late midlife physical health appeared to be a particularly salient mediator. Individuals who experience childhood disability may accumulate more physical impairment over the life course, thus experiencing worse mental health such as greater depressive symptoms in late midlife.

Keywords: childhood disability; depressive symptoms; life course; mental health.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Depression / psychology*
  • Female
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Risk Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Time Factors
  • United States