Childhood social environment, emotional reactivity to stress, and mood and anxiety disorders across the life course

Depression and Anxiety, 12/09/2010

McLaughlin KA et al. – The authors investigate whether emotional reactivity to stress is a mechanism in the association between childhood environment characteristics and adult mood and anxiety disorders. Heightened emotional reactivity in early adulthood is associated with both adverse childhood environments and elevated risk for developing mood and anxiety disorders in adulthood. Emotional reactivity may be one mechanism linking childhood adversity to mood and anxiety disorders in adulthood.

Methods

  • Data from Study of Adult Development, longitudinal study of men (N = 268) followed for nearly seven decades beginning in late adolescence
  • Childhood social environment characteristics assessed during home visits and interviews with respondents' parents at entry into study
  • Stress reactivity assessed during respondents' sophomore year of college via physician exam
  • Onset of mood and anxiety disorders in adulthood ascertained by research psychiatrists who completed chart reviews of interview, questionnaire, and physical exam data collected during repeated assessments from age 20 to 70

Results

  • Respondents with better overall childhood environments and greater number of environmental strengths were at lower odds of developing a mood or anxiety disorder in adulthood than respondents with more adverse childhood environments
  • Higher stress reactivity observed among respondents from families with lower socio-economic status and with childhood environments characterized by greater conflict and adversity
  • Elevated stress reactivity, in turn, predicted onset of adult mood and anxiety disorders

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