The role of specific early trauma in adult depression: A meta-analysis of published literature. Childhood trauma and adult depression

Eur Psychiatry. 2015 Sep;30(6):665-80. doi: 10.1016/j.eurpsy.2015.04.007. Epub 2015 Jun 13.


Background: A large literature has long focused on the role of trauma in childhood and risk for psychological disorders in adulthood. Despite several studies performed, to date, it is not clear which weight have different childhood stressors specifically on the risk for depression in adult life. In the present study, we performed a meta-analysis of the literature in order to assess the effective role of childhood traumas as risk factor in the onset of depressive disorders in adults.

Methods: Previously published papers investigating the exposure to childhood trauma and their association with depression in adult subjects were retrieved in literature through common databases. Meta-analysis was conducted by the RevMan software. The quality of studies was evaluated by an adapted version of the New-Ottawa Quality Assessment Scale; bias publication was evaluated by the Egger's test. Meta-regression analysis was employed to detect potential confounders and/or moderating variables. Finally, a sensitivity analysis was post-hoc performed to control for potential confounders.

Results: Emotional abuse showed the strongest association with depression (OR=2.78) followed by neglect (OR=2.75) and sexual abuse (OR=2.42). Significant associations were also found for domestic violence (OR=2.06) and physical abuse (OR=1.98). Nevertheless, in post-hoc analysis, emotional abuse and neglect showed the strongest associations with depression as compared to other kinds of child trauma.

Conclusions: These findings support the role of neglect and emotional abuse as significantly associated to depression. Sexual/physical abuse or violence in family may be unspecific risk factors for mental disturbance. Other kind of trauma may play a less relevant role in risk of adult depression, though they should be not underestimated.

Keywords: Abuse; Child/adolescent; Depression; Life events/stress; Maltreatment; Neglect; Trauma.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Adult Children / psychology
  • Age of Onset
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / psychology*
  • Depressive Disorder* / epidemiology
  • Depressive Disorder* / etiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Psychological Trauma* / complications
  • Psychological Trauma* / epidemiology
  • Risk Factors