New longitudinal research sheds light on the severity of the effects of childhood trauma on anxiety and depression

Childhood trauma is known to have adverse effects on mental health in adulthood, but the nuances of these outcomes are not well understood. Study published in Journal of Affective Disorders It explores how childhood trauma affects specific aspects of depression and anxiety over time.

Childhood trauma has long been associated with increased mental health risks in adulthood, particularly anxiety and depression. Despite this, there has been a lack of resources that focus on analyzing symptoms associated with childhood trauma, as well as the relationship to diagnoses.

This study seeks to expand the literature on childhood trauma and mental illness by exploring differences in symptoms between people who have experienced and not experienced trauma and by measuring these symptoms over time.

“Case knowledge of childhood trauma and clinical features of depression and anxiety was scarce and relied heavily on methodologically heterogeneous cross-sectional studies, focusing on a limited set of symptoms of depression/anxiety, with anxiety largely unstudied. Thus, understanding whether individuals suffer of childhood trauma could be more likely to develop certain symptoms of affective disorders was inconclusive,” Erika Kosminskite and colleagues wrote in their study.

The researchers used data from a longitudinal cohort of adults who were fluent in Dutch. In the base wave, there were 1,803 participants, which was reduced to 1,475 by the last wave, 6 years later. Childhood trauma was assessed at baseline by the researchers. In each wave, symptoms of depression and anxiety were measured, as well as sociodemographic information and psychiatric medication status. Almost half of the sample had suffered from some form of childhood trauma, while about 70% of the sample had a diagnosis of depression and/or anxiety disorder.

The results showed that participants who had experienced childhood trauma showed an increase in the severity of all symptoms of anxiety and depression, which indicates how serious the effects of childhood trauma can be. The strongest increase in symptoms was observed for participants experiencing trauma with respect to depressive mood/cognitive symptoms.

“Exposure to childhood trauma may alter basic cognitive assumptions about self and others, which over time may become part of an individual’s personality,” the researchers explain. “Indeed, individuals with a history of childhood trauma are often characterized by negative cognitive schemas and negative self-associations, which could explain the specific development of more severe mood/cognitive depression symptoms.”

In addition, symptoms remained higher over the 6-year period for participants with trauma than for participants without, indicating the chronic nature of these effects. Participants without trauma showed a rapid decrease in symptoms over the years. The severity of symptoms for participants who had experienced childhood trauma increased symptoms of depression over symptoms of anxiety, which is consistent with previous research on survivors of childhood trauma.

This study took important steps in delving into the nuances of the effects of childhood trauma on mental illness. Despite this, there are limitations to note. One such limitation is that remembering childhood trauma as an adult can be affected by memory and biases. In addition, the sample was predominantly female and entirely Dutch-speaking, which may significantly limit generalizability.

Kozminskite and colleagues conclude, “Large-scale longitudinal prospective projects are required in order to better understand the underlying mechanisms of childhood trauma that link early trauma with future mental health outcomes.” “Comprehensive screening of childhood trauma in clinical practice is essential to identify individuals at risk for a more severe and chronic course of affective disorders. These individuals may benefit from developing personalized treatment planning (eg, additional lifestyle-based intervention or intervention targeting stress system dysregulation) .”

The study, “Childhood Trauma and its Impact on Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety in Adulthood: A 6-Year Longitudinal Study,” written by Erika Kosminskite, Christian H. Venkers, Yuri Milanchi, and Eric J.

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