Childhood Violence Exposure: Cumulative and Specific Effects on Adult Mental Health

Abstract

Childhood exposure to violence and victimization is a significant public health problem, with potentially long-lasting, deleterious effects on adult mental health. Using a longitudinal study design, 123 young adults—identified in adolescence as at-risk for high school dropout—were examined for the effects of multi-domain childhood victimization on emotional distress and suicide risk, net of adolescent risk and protective factors, including family dysfunction. The hypothesis that higher levels of cumulative childhood victimization would be significantly associated with mental health maladjustment in young adulthood was confirmed by the analysis. However, the victimization predictors of adult emotional distress were different than the predictors of adult suicide risk. These findings indicate the need for prevention and intervention approaches that include thorough assessment, and focus on the childhood and adolescent problem areas that are most consequential for long-term psychological well-being.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    An additional analysis was conducted, adding adolescent victimization to the equation to test that effects on adulthood were not due to later exposures. With childhood victimization in the equation, adolescent multi-domain victimization did not add significantly to the prediction of emotional distress, and childhood victimization remained significant.

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Correspondence to Carole Hooven.

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This research was supported by R01 NR 03550 from the National Institute on Nursing Research, the University of Washington School of Nursing Nettleship Johnson Gift Fund, the University of Washington Royalty Research Fund, the National Institute on Mental Health Grant 5 T32 MH020010, and the National Center for Research Resources Grant TL1 RR 025016.

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Hooven, C., Nurius, P.S., Logan-Greene, P. et al. Childhood Violence Exposure: Cumulative and Specific Effects on Adult Mental Health. J Fam Viol 27, 511–522 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10896-012-9438-0

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Keywords

  • Young adult
  • Victimization
  • Emotional distress
  • Suicide