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Cumulative exposure to childhood stressors and subsequent psychological distress. An analysis of US panel data

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Research has shown that childhood stress increases the risk of poor mental health later in life. We examined the effect of childhood stressors on psychological distress and self-reported depression in young adulthood. Data were obtained from the Child Development Supplement (CDS) to the national Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID), a survey of US families that incorporates data from parents and their children. In 2005 and 2007, the Panel Study of Income Dynamics was supplemented with two waves of Transition into Adulthood (TA) data drawn from a national sample of young adults, 18-23 years old. This study included data from participants in the CDS and the TA (n = 2128), children aged 4-13 at baseline. Data on current psychological distress was used as an outcome variable in logistic regressions, calculated as odds ratios (OR) with 95% confidence intervals (CI). Latent Class Analyses were used to identify clusters based on the different childhood stressors. Associations were observed between cumulative exposure to childhood stressors and both psychological distress and self-reported depression. Individuals being exposed to three or more stressors had the highest risk (crude OR for psychological distress: 2.49 (95% CI: 1.16-5.33), crude OR for self-reported depression: 2.07 (95% CI: 1.15-3.71). However, a large part was explained by adolescent depressive symptoms. Findings support the long-term negative impact of cumulative exposure to childhood stress on psychological distress. The important role of adolescent depression in this association also needs to be taken into consideration in future studies.

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