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. 2015 Oct;32(10):709-19.
doi: 10.1002/da.22395. Epub 2015 Jul 28.

MATERNAL EXPERIENCE OF ABUSE IN CHILDHOOD AND DEPRESSIVE SYMPTOMS IN ADOLESCENT AND ADULT OFFSPRING: A 21-YEAR LONGITUDINAL STUDY

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Free PMC article

MATERNAL EXPERIENCE OF ABUSE IN CHILDHOOD AND DEPRESSIVE SYMPTOMS IN ADOLESCENT AND ADULT OFFSPRING: A 21-YEAR LONGITUDINAL STUDY

Andrea L Roberts et al. Depress Anxiety. .
Free PMC article

Abstract

Background: Intergenerational effects of child abuse have been documented, but it is unknown whether maternal childhood abuse influences offspring mental health in adolescence or adulthood.

Methods: To examine whether maternal experience of childhood abuse is associated with depressive symptoms in adolescent and young adult offspring, we linked data from two large longitudinal cohorts of women (N = 8,882) and their offspring (N = 11,402), and we examined three possible pathways by which maternal experience of abuse might be associated with offspring depressive symptoms: maternal mental health, family characteristics, and offspring's own experience of abuse.

Results: Offspring of women who experienced severe versus no childhood abuse had greater likelihood of high depressive symptoms (RR = 1.78, 95% CI = 1.47, 2.16) and persistent high depressive symptoms (RR = 2.47, 95% CI = 1.37, 4.44). Maternal mental health accounted for 20.9% and offspring's exposure to abuse accounted for 30.3% of the elevated risk of high depressive symptoms. Disparities in offspring depressive symptoms by maternal abuse exposure were evident at age 12 years and persisted through age 31 years.

Conclusions: Findings provide evidence that childhood abuse adversely affects the mental health of the victim's offspring well into adulthood. As offspring exposure to abuse and maternal mental health accounted for more than 50% of the elevated risk of high depressive symptoms among offspring of women who experienced abuse, improving maternal mental health and parenting practices may reduce offspring risk for depressive symptoms in these families.

Keywords: adolescent; adult offspring; child abuse; depression; maternal behavior; sexual abuse.

Conflict of interest statement

Conflict of interest. The authors report no conflicts of interest

Figures

Figure 1
Figure 1
Timeline of data collection in Nurses’ Health Study II (mothers) and the Growing Up Today Study (offspring).
Figure 2
Figure 2
Highest decile of depressive symptoms across adolescence and young adulthood in offspring by maternal childhood experience of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, N mothers = 8,882; N offspring = 11,402; N observations (offspring) = 39,213.

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