Journal of Youth and Adolescence

, Volume 32, Issue 2, pp 89-103

First online:

Direct and Indirect Effects of Childhood Adversity on Depressive Symptoms in Young Adults

  • Heather A. TurnerAffiliated withDepartment of Sociology, Horton Social Science Center, University of New Hampshire
  • , Melissa J. ButlerAffiliated withDepartment of Sociology, University of New Hampshire

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While researchers have provided evidence that recent stressors in adulthood and single traumatic events in childhood predict psychological disorder, few have examined the cumulative impact of childhood adversity on later well-being. Using a sample of 649 college students from New England, this research examines whether cumulative trauma in childhood and adolescence is related to depressive symptoms in young adults, and explores the mediating factors that operate in this association. Results indicate clear differences in cumulative trauma by sociodemographic characteristics, with males, nonwhites, and those with less than college-educated parents, reporting significantly greater levels of adversity. We also find that higher trauma is associated with both early onset of depressive disorder and later depressive symptoms. Path analyses reveal that, while some of the association between childhood adversity and depression in young adults is direct, most is explained by the mediating effects of later stress, low self-esteem, and early onset of disorder.

cumulative trauma childhood adversity stress processes depression