Adverse and Benevolent Childhood Experiences Predict Mental Health During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Advers Resil Sci. 2021;2(3):193-204. doi: 10.1007/s42844-021-00038-6. Epub 2021 Apr 23.


Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are associated with poorer adult mental health, and benevolent childhood experiences (BCEs) are associated with better adult mental health. This study aims to test whether ACEs and BCEs predict adult mental health above and beyond current stress and social support during the COVID-19 pandemic. We analyzed data from undergraduate and graduate students (N = 502) at an urban private university in the Western United States. An online survey was conducted to assess ACEs and BCEs, current stress and social support, depressive and anxiety symptoms, perceived stress, and loneliness in May 2020. Higher levels of ACEs were associated with higher levels of depressive symptoms, β = 0.45, p = 0.002. Higher levels of BCEs were associated with lower depressive symptoms, β = -0.39, p = 0.03; lower perceived stress, β = -0.26, p = 0.002; and less loneliness, β = -0.12, p = 0.04. These associations held while controlling for current stress, social support, and socioeconomic status. Childhood experiences are associated with mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic. BCEs should be considered an important promotive factor, independent of ACEs, for psychological well-being during a global public health crisis. BCEs should be included along with ACEs in future research, assessment, and screening with distressed and vulnerable populations.

Keywords: Adverse childhood experiences; Benevolent childhood experiences; COVID-19; Mental health.