Childhood adversities (CAs) predict heightened risks of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and major depressive episode (MDE) among people exposed to adult traumatic events. Identifying which CAs put individuals at greatest risk for these adverse posttraumatic neuropsychiatric sequelae (APNS) is important for targeting prevention interventions.
Data came from n = 999 patients ages 18–75 presenting to 29 U.S. emergency departments after a motor vehicle collision (MVC) and followed for 3 months, the amount of time traditionally used to define chronic PTSD, in the Advancing Understanding of Recovery After Trauma (AURORA) study. Six CA types were self-reported at baseline: physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, physical neglect, emotional neglect and bullying. Both dichotomous measures of ever experiencing each CA type and numeric measures of exposure frequency were included in the analysis. Risk ratios (RRs) of these CA measures as well as complex interactions among these measures were examined as predictors of APNS 3 months post-MVC. APNS was defined as meeting self-reported criteria for either PTSD based on the PTSD Checklist for DSM-5 and/or MDE based on the PROMIS Depression Short-Form 8b. We controlled for pre-MVC lifetime histories of PTSD and MDE. We also examined mediating effects through peritraumatic symptoms assessed in the emergency department and PTSD and MDE assessed in 2-week and 8-week follow-up surveys. Analyses were carried out with robust Poisson regression models.
Most participants (90.9%) reported at least rarely having experienced some CA. Ever experiencing each CA other than emotional neglect was univariably associated with 3-month APNS (RRs = 1.31–1.60). Each CA frequency was also univariably associated with 3-month APNS (RRs = 1.65–2.45). In multivariable models, joint associations of CAs with 3-month APNS were additive, with frequency of emotional abuse (RR = 2.03; 95% CI = 1.43–2.87) and bullying (RR = 1.44; 95% CI = 0.99–2.10) being the strongest predictors. Control variable analyses found that these associations were largely explained by pre-MVC histories of PTSD and MDE.
Although individuals who experience frequent emotional abuse and bullying in childhood have a heightened risk of experiencing APNS after an adult MVC, these associations are largely mediated by prior histories of PTSD and MDE.