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Associations between exposure to childhood bullying and abuse and adulthood outcomes in a nationally representative U.S. sample


Negative childhood experiences are associated with poor health and psychosocial outcomes throughout one’s lifespan. We examine associations between specific adverse childhood events, recent negative life events, and several adulthood outcomes: psychological distress, functional impairment, general worries about the future, and physician-diagnosed mental and physical health ailments. Data were gathered from multiple waves of an online survey initially administered to a nationally representative sample of U.S. adults between 4/29/13-5/13/13. Over the next two years, respondents (n = 2908) completed detailed measures of exposure to multiple negative childhood experiences as well as physician-diagnosed mental and physical health ailments; over time, respondents also completed measures assessing exposure to negative life events occurring in the past year. All analyses were weighted to adjust for attrition and sampling design. Overall, 24.86% (n = 723) of the sample reported bullying during childhood, 14.65% (n =426) reported physical abuse, 14.43% (n = 420) reported witnessing parental violence, 10.24% (n = 298) reported sexual abuse, and 7.94% (n = 231) indicated parental neglect. Respondents who reported experiencing childhood bullying, physical abuse, and sexual abuse reported greater distress, functional impairment, and worry about future negative events as mediated through recent negative life events compared to those who did not. Those who experienced bullying, neglect, and sexual abuse reported more mental health ailments compared to those who did not while those reporting bullying and sexual abuse reported more physical health ailments. Negative childhood experiences are linked to ongoing exposure to stressful events, which are associated with poorer outcomes in adulthood.

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