Our research demonstrates that childhood adversity is a common societal problem that plays a critical role in shaping the distribution of mental disorders in the population. Such adversity includes exposure to trauma (i.e., events that involve harm or serious risk of harm, such as physical or sexual abuse and other forms of interpersonal violence), deprivation (i.e., neglect, absence or limited availability of a primary caregiver), and social disadvantage (i.e., poverty, food insecurity). Using population representative data, I have shown that approximately half of all children—both in the U.S. and cross-nationally—have been exposed to at least one such form of adversity. In other work I show that such adverse childhood experiences are strongly associated with the onset, persistence, and severity of psychiatric disorders. Children with the highest levels of exposure to adversity are more than four times as likely to develop a mental disorder by the time they reach adulthood than children with have not experienced adversity. Adverse childhood experiences are associated not only with risk for mental disorders in childhood, but confer a lasting vulnerability to psychopathology that persists into adulthood. Indeed, my work shows that approximately one-third of all mental disorders worldwide are attributable to exposure to adverse childhood experiences. This sobering finding underscores the importance of developing interventions that mitigate the lasting mental health consequences of these experiences.
McLaughlin, K.A., Green, J.G., Gruber, M.J., Sampson, N.A., Zaslavsky, A., & Kessler, R.C. (2012). Childhood adversities and first onset of psychiatric disorders in a national sample of adolescents. Archives of General Psychiatry, 69, 1151-1160.
McLaughlin, K. A., Green, J. G., Gruber, M. J., Sampson, N. A., Zaslavsky, A. M., & Kessler, R. C. (2010). Childhood adversities and adult psychopathology in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication (NCS-R) III: Associations with functional impairment related to DSM-IV disorders. Psychological Medicine, 40(5), 847–859.
Green, J. G., McLaughlin, K. A., Berglund, P. A., Gruber, M. J., Sampson, N. A., Zaslavsky, A. M., & Kessler, R. C. (2010). Childhood adversities and adult psychiatric disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication I: Associations with first onset of DSM-IV disorders. Archives of General Psychiatry, 67(2), 113–123.
McLaughlin, K. A., Breslau, J., Green, J. G., Lakoma, M. D., Sampson, N. A., Zaslavsky, A. M., & Kessler, R. C. (2011). Childhood socio-economic status and the onset, persistence, and severity of DSM-IV mental disorders in a US national sample. Social Science & Medicine (1982), 73(7), 1088–1096.
McLaughlin, K.A., Costello, E.J., Leblanc, W., Sampson, N.A., & Kessler, R.C. (2012). Socioeconomic status and adolescent mental disorders. American Journal of Public Health, 102, 1742-1750.