Long-term effects of left-behind experience on adult depression: Social trust as mediating factor

Front Public Health. 2022 Sep 9;10:957324. doi: 10.3389/fpubh.2022.957324. eCollection 2022.


Background: Despite much attention paid to the mental health of left-behind children, there has not been sufficient research on whether and how left-behind experiences have long-term effects on adults among the general population. This paper aims to evaluate the long-term effects of left-behind experience on adult psychological depression.

Methods: By using the China Labor-force Dynamics Survey in 2018 (CLDS 2018), we assessed depression by the Center for Epidemiological Studies, Depression Scale (CES-D) and used a cut-off score of 20 for detecting depression (Yes = 1, No = 0). The Binomial logistic regression was used to compare the odds ratio across groups. We used the KHB method in the mediation analysis, to measure the indirect effect of social trust on the relationship between left-behind experience and depression.

Results: The rate of depression (χ2 = 17.94, p < 0.001) for the children who have left-behind experience (LBE) (10.87%) was higher than the children who have non-left-behind experience (N-LBE) (6.37%). The rate of social trust (χ2 = 27.51, p < 0.001) of LBE (65.70%) was lower than N-LBE (75.05%). Compared with the other three groups, left-behind experience occurred in preschool (OR = 2.07, p < 0.001, 95% CI = [1.45, 2.97]) was more likely to suffer from depression. The indirect effect of social trust (OR = 1.06, p < 0.01, 95% CI = [1.02, 1.10]) is significantly on the relationship between LBE and psychological depression, with the total effect (OR = 1.71, p < 0.001, 95% CI = [1.27, 2.31]) and direct effect (OR = 1.62, p < 0.01, 95% CI = [1.20, 2.18]) are both significantly. The proportion of indirect effect in the total effect is 10.69%.

Conclusion: The left-behind experience that occurred in childhood has a significantly negative effect on adult psychological depression, in which preschool left-behind experience played the most critical role. Social trust is the mediating factor associated with left-behind experience and psychological depression. To mitigate the long-term effects of the left-behind experience on psychological depression, parents need to be prudent about the decision-making of migration in the preschool stage of their children. and subsequent policies should strengthen social work targeting vulnerable youth groups especially those with left-behind experience at an early age in terms of their psychological depression.

Keywords: adult; depression; left-behind experience; long-term effects; social trust.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Depression* / epidemiology
  • Depression* / psychology
  • Humans
  • Mediation Analysis
  • Mental Health
  • Rural Population
  • Trust*