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

Citation:

McLaughlin, K. A., Kubzansky, L. D., Dunn, E. C., Waldinger, R., Vaillant, G., & Koenen, K. C. (2010). Childhood social environment, emotional reactivity to stress, and mood and anxiety disorders across the life course. Depression and Anxiety , 27 (12), 1087โ€“1094.
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Date Published:

dec

Abstract:

BACKGROUND: Adverse child environments are associated with the onset of mood and anxiety disorders in adulthood. The mechanisms underlying these life-course associations remain poorly understood. We investigate whether emotional reactivity to stress is a mechanism in the association between childhood environment characteristics and adult mood and anxiety disorders. METHODS: Data are from the Study of Adult Development, a longitudinal study of men (N = 268) followed for nearly seven decades beginning in late adolescence. Childhood social environment characteristics were assessed during home visits and interviews with respondents' parents at entry into the study. Stress reactivity was assessed during respondents' sophomore year of college via physician exam. Onset of mood and anxiety disorders in adulthood was 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 a 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 was 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 the onset of adult mood and anxiety disorders. CONCLUSION: 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.

Last updated on 10/09/2018