Association between early-life trauma and obsessive compulsive symptoms in community youth

Depress Anxiety. 2019 Jul;36(7):586-595. doi: 10.1002/da.22907. Epub 2019 May 8.


Background: Obsessive-compulsive symptoms (OCS) in youth are common, have heterogeneous manifestations, and have been shown to be associated with serious psychopathology. While early-life trauma exposure is associated with increased risk for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), its association with different OCS and its clinical relevance for serious psychopathology is unclear. Here we aimed to evaluate associations among traumatic stressful events (TSE), OCS, and serious psychiatric conditions in community youth.

Methods: We studied nonmental-help seeking youths from the Philadelphia Neurodevelopmental Cohort (N = 7054, aged 11-21, 54% females, 52% prepubertal), assessed for lifetime TSE exposure and OCS. Regression models investigated cross-sectional associations of TSEs with OCS, and associations with depression, suicide ideation and psychosis. Models examined sex and puberty effects, controlling for age and socioeconomic status.

Results: Trauma exposure was associated with higher OCS rates, especially in females (Trauma × Sex interaction Wald = 7.93, p = 0.005) and prepuberty (Trauma × Puberty interaction Wald = 7.68, p = 0.006). TSEs were associated with all OCS manifestations, most prominently with bad intrusive thoughts (odds ratio [OR] = 1.63). Assaultive TSEs, especially sexual assault, showed stronger associations with OCS compared with nonassaultive TSEs. While TSEs and OCS were independently associated with depression, suicide ideation, and psychosis, a significant interaction was observed only in association with increased rates of psychosis (Trauma × OCS interaction Wald = 5.08, p = 0.024).

Conclusion: Early-life trauma is associated with OCS in a dose-response manner, more so in females and prepuberty. The trauma-OCS association varied by load, type of trauma, and by OCS subtypes. Trauma-OCS appears a detrimental combination in association with psychosis.

Keywords: child/adolescent; depression; obsessive-compulsive disorder; posttraumatic stress disorder; stress; suicide; trauma.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Cohort Studies
  • Comorbidity
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Depression / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder / epidemiology*
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder / psychology*
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Psychological Trauma / epidemiology*
  • Psychological Trauma / psychology*
  • Psychopathology
  • Psychotic Disorders / epidemiology
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Sex Factors
  • Sex Offenses / psychology
  • Sex Offenses / statistics & numerical data
  • Suicidal Ideation
  • Young Adult