The influence of pre and postnatal adversity on depression and anxiety over two decades
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INTRODUCTION: Perinatal and later postnatal adversity (e.g., child sexual abuse) are predictors of psychopathology across the lifespan. However, little is known about the impact of the joint effects of perinatal and postnatal adversity on the longitudinal trajectories of mental health problems from adolescence through adulthood. METHOD: We utilized data from a prospective, longitudinal birth cohort of extremely low birth weight (ELBW; < 1000 g) survivors and normal birth weight (NBW; > 2500 g) control participants. Self-report data on internalizing (depression, anxiety) and externalizing (antisocial) problems were collected at 12-16, 22-26, and 30-35 years of age. RESULTS: A birth weight by child sexual abuse (CSA) interaction was observed such that ELBW survivors exposed to CSA had higher levels of internalizing problems from adolescence through adulthood than NBW participants exposed to CSA. Differences remained significant after adjustment for covariates. Likewise, ELBW survivors exposed to CSA had higher levels of internalizing problems from adolescence through adulthood than ELBW participants who were not exposed to CSA. LIMITATIONS: Findings are limited by sample attrition due to the longitudinal nature of the study spanning over 30 years as well as the retrospective nature of child sexual abuse reporting. CONCLUSIONS: Exposure to both perinatal and later postnatal adversity leads to persistently higher internalizing problems than exposure to either adversity alone over more than two decades. These findings suggest that individuals exposed to perinatal adversity may be especially vulnerable to, and persistently affected by, childhood adversity, particularly in the form of depression and anxiety.
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