Childhood adversities and psychosocial disorders

Br Med Bull. 1997 Jan;53(1):156-69. doi: 10.1093/oxfordjournals.bmb.a011597.


Adverse childhood experiences--especially inadequacies in early parental care--are associated with elevated rates of both acute and chronic psychosocial disorders in adult life. In most instances, adverse outcomes are confined to a minority of children exposed; variations in the severity or pervasiveness of early risk, individual differences in susceptibility, and interactions with later stressors are all thus likely to be important in mediating effects. At present, knowledge of intervening processes is limited, and dependent on retrospective studies of adult samples or short-term longitudinal findings in childhood. We review current evidence on the long-term outcomes of prenatal divorce, childhood maltreatment, and institutional rearing, and on the early antecedents of depression and antisocial behaviour in adult life, to highlight possible interviewing mechanisms. Most long-term sequelae seem likely to depend on a series of shorter-term links, some running through elevated risks of continued environmental adversity, others through psychological vulnerabilities and problems in social relationships.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / psychology*
  • Child, Institutionalized
  • Cohort Studies
  • Depression / etiology
  • Developmental Disabilities / complications
  • Divorce / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / etiology*
  • Risk Factors
  • Social Behavior Disorders / etiology*
  • Stress, Psychological