Early life stress is linked with some types of youth onset depression, researchers find

Early life stress is linked with some types of youth onset depression, researchers find

by Freya Lucas

July 16, 2020

Researchers have found an association between eight different types of early life stress (ELS) and the development of depression in young people, further supporting understandings about how early life experiences can have an impact on the future health and wellbeing of children. 

 

The study, published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (JAACAP), reports that individuals exposed to ELS were more likely to develop a major depressive disorder (MDD) in childhood or adolescence than individuals who had not been exposed to ELS.

 

While some types of ELS, for example experiencing poverty, were not associated with MDD, other types of stress, including emotional abuse, were associated more strongly with MDD than a broader assessment of ELS.

 

Lead author Dr Joelle LeMoult said the research was important given that earlier onsets of depression often mean a more recurrent course across the lifespan. 

 

“We found that exposure to early life stress more than doubled the likelihood someone will develop youth-onset depression” she said.

 

“These findings indicate that there is a narrow window between adversity and depression during which we have the opportunity to intervene.”

 

To come to their conclusions researchers undertook a meta-analysis of data from 62 journal articles and over 44,000 unique participants. Studies that assessed early life stress and the presence or absence of MDD before the age of 18 years were also included.

 

In undertaking the study, the authors also conducted eight additional meta-analyses to examine the association between different types of ELS and a diagnosis of MDD during childhood or adolescence. 

 

Sexual abuse, physical abuse, death of a family member, domestic violence, and emotional abuse were associated with significantly higher risk for youth-onset MDD; in contrast, poverty, illness/injury, and exposure to a natural disaster were not.

 

To read Meta-analysis: Exposure to Early Life Stress and Risk for Depression in Childhood and Adolescence by Joelle LeMoult, PhD, Kathryn L. Humphreys, PhD, Alison Tracy, MA, Jennifer-Ashley Hoffmeister, BSc, Eunice Ip, BA, Ian H. Gotlib, PhD , please see here

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