The mental health burden from childhood trauma is already evident by middle childhood, according to study findings published in The Lancet Psychiatry.
Researchers sourced data from the 2004 Pelotas Birth Cohort, which is an ongoing, population-based, prospective cohort of children born in Pelotas, Brazil, in 2004. The study participants (N=3444) underwent the Developmental and Well-Being Assessment (DAWBA) at ages 6 and 11 years.
The prevalence of anxiety disorders, mood disorders, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and hyperactivity disorders, and conduct and oppositional disorders was evaluated on the basis of trauma. Interpersonal trauma was defined as being the victim of or witnessing an attack, physical or sexual abuse, rape, and domestic violence. Noninterpersonal trauma was defined as experiencing a serious accident, fire or disaster, and witnessing a serious accident or sudden death.
The children were 51.7% boys, 62.4% of whom had a mother who was White, 15.7% of the mothers were unwed or unpaired, mean family income was 794.4 Brazilian real, and the mothers completed an average of 8.1 years of education.
A total of 1231 of the children were exposed to childhood trauma. Stratified by trauma, participants in the exposed group were more likely to have mothers who consumed alcohol (odds ratio [OR], 1.67), smoked cigarettes (OR, 1.52), completed fewer years of education (r, 0.05; P =.0055), had higher depression scores (r, 0.15; P <.0001), and had lower family income (r, 0.05; P =.0045) compared with participants in the unexposed group. A subset of 1154 trauma-exposed children at age 11 years had complete data, 491 of whom were exposed to interpersonal trauma and 545 to noninterpersonal trauma.
At 6 and 11 years of age, the trauma participants in the exposed group had higher rates of any psychiatric disorder, anxiety disorders, mood disorders, ADHD and hyperactivity disorders, and conduct and oppositional disorders.
In the fully adjusted model, any trauma associated with any psychiatric disorder (adjusted odds ratio [aOR], 1.59; 95% CI, 1.22-2.06; P =.0005) and anxiety disorders (aOR, 1.79; 95% CI, 1.33-2.42; P =.0001) at 6 years of age. At age 11 years, any trauma associated with any psychiatric disorder (aOR, 1.45; 95% CI, 1.17-1.79; P =.0007), conduct and oppositional disorders (aOR, 1.76; 95% CI, 1.19-2.61; P =.0049), mood disorders (aOR, 1.66; 95% CI, 1.08-2.55; P =.020), anxiety disorders (aOR, 1.47; 95% CI, 1.04-2.09; P =.029), and ADHD and hyperactivity disorders (aOR, 1.47; 95% CI, 1.01-2.13; P =.042).
At age 11, children who experienced interpersonal trauma were at risk for any psychiatric disorder (aOR, 1.44; 95% CI, 1.07-1.92; P =.019), conduct and oppositional disorders (aOR, 1.94; 95% CI, 1.21-3.11; P =.0062), mood disorders (aOR, 1.86; 95% CI, 1.12-3.09; P =.016), and anxiety disorders (aOR, 1.54; 95% CI, 1.01-2.35; P =.047). The children with noninterpersonal traumas were at risk for any psychiatric disorder (aOR, 1.40; 95% CI, 1.04-1.87; P =.024) and anxiety disorders (aOR, 1.60; 95% CI, 1.05-2.42; P =.027).
The major limitation of this study was that clinical interviews about trauma were conducted with caregivers.
Study authors conclude, “Our findings suggest that associations between trauma and mental disorder are already present by age 6 years and hold across multiple diagnostic groupings by age 11 years.”
Bauer A, Fairchild G, Hammerton G, et al. Associations between childhood trauma and childhood psychiatric disorders in Brazil: a population-based, prospective birth cohort study. Lancet Psychiatry. Published online October 31, 2022. doi:10.1016/S2215-0366(22)00337-6