Identifying potential mechanisms between childhood trauma and the psychological response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Germany: a longitudinal study

Sci Rep. 2022 Jul 28;12(1):12964. doi: 10.1038/s41598-022-13205-1.


Childhood maltreatment (CM) has been associated with adverse psychosocial outcomes during the pandemic, but the underlying mechanisms are unclear. In a prospective online study using baseline and 10-week follow-up data of 391 German participants, we applied multiple mediation analyses to test to what extent COVID-19 perceived stressors mediate the association between CM and later adverse psychosocial outcomes compared to established mediators of rumination and insecure attachment. We also explored the relative importance of different COVID-19 related stressors in predicting adverse psychological trajectories using elastic net regression. Results showed that CM was longitudinally associated with all adverse psychosocial outcome. COVID-19 perceived stressors, rumination, and insecure attachment mediated this relationship and full mediation was observed for the outcomes anxiety, stress and psychological well-being. COVID-19-related concerns about the future was most strongly and consistently associated with adverse psychosocial functioning. These findings provide preliminary evidence that COVID-19 perceived stressors, in particular concerns about the future, may be a key mechanism underlying the development of adverse psychosocial outcomes in individuals with a CM history. Thus, COVID-19 perceived stressors may require a higher priority for prevention and treatment efforts in vulnerable groups. Our results warrant replication in more representative cross-cultural samples.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adverse Childhood Experiences*
  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • COVID-19* / psychology
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Pandemics
  • Prospective Studies
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology