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02-02-2011 | Mental health | Article

Childhood adversity linked to mood disorder chronicity


Free abstract

MedWire News: Exposure to family problems in childhood is associated with an increased risk for mood disorder chronicity in adulthood, study results show.

Writing in the European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience, Jules Angst (Zurich University Psychiatric Hospital, Switzerland) and colleagues explain that "prospective studies have reported an association between childhood adversity and adult depression, but to our knowledge, none has investigated the relationship between early adversity and chronicity of adult mood disorders."

To address this, the team studied data from the Zurich study on 591 members of the general population who were followed up between the ages of 19 and 40 years. Of these, 104 had bipolar disorder (BD) and 110 had unipolar depression (UD).

All of the participants completed the Symptom Checklist 90-Revised at study entry, and were assessed for mastery and self-esteem using the Pearlin and Schooler scales at the age of 20-21 years.

Childhood adversity (family problems, conduct problems, and sexual trauma) were retrospectively assessed in interviews at the ages of 27-28 and 29-30 years.

Mood disorder chronicity, defined as the presence of symptoms for more than 50% of days over 2 years prior to interview, or the almost daily occurrence of symptoms for 1 year, was identified in 38 BD patients and 43 UD patients.

Analysis revealed that childhood conduct problems, such as trouble with the police, frequent physical fighting, thieving, truancy, and poor discipline at school, and sexual trauma were not significantly associated with mood disorder chronicity in adulthood.

However, family problems in childhood, such as conflict with or between parents, having a father or mother with psychological problems, and within-family victimization, were significantly associated with an increased risk for mood disorder chronicity, at an odds ratio of 1.7.

The researchers also found that childhood anxiety, low self-esteem, and decreased mastery were associated with an increased risk for chronicity, with individual disorder-dependent ORs ranging from 2.1 to 4.0.

Angst and team conclude: "Childhood family problems were strongly associated with chronicity of both bipolar and unipolar mood disorders.

"Our data are also in line with the hypothesis that childhood adversity may create a vulnerability in the form of childhood anxious personality and low self-esteem and mastery that predispose to chronic mood disorders. However, this requires further analysis and confirmation by other studies."

MedWire ( is an independent clinical news service provided by Current Medicine Group, a trading division of Springer Healthcare Limited. © Springer Healthcare Ltd; 2011

By Mark Cowen

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