Early life stress and adult emotional experience: An international perspective

Ronald A. Cohen, Brian L. Hitsman, Robert H. Paul, Jeanne McCaffery, Laura Stroud, Lawrence Sweet, John Gunstad, Raymond Niaura, Alexander MacFarlane, Richard A. Bryant, Evian Gordon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Early life stress (ELS) has been linked to adult psychopathology, though few studies have examined the universality of specific adverse childhood events (ACEs) in healthy adults. We examined the co-occurrence of specific ACEs and their relationship to current emotional distress in an international sample of adults without psychopathology. Participants were 1659 men and women recruited for an international neurocognitive-neuroimaging database from sites in the United States, Australia, England, and the Netherlands. Participants had no current or prior diagnosis of major depression, anxiety, substance abuse, or neurological brain disorder. The occurrence and age on onset of 19 ACEs was assessed by a self-report questionnaire (ELSQ), and current symptoms of stress, depression, and anxiety by the Depression Anxiety Stress Scale (DASS). The relationship of specific ACEs to DASS symptoms was examined. Participants reported relatively high prevalence of ACEs. Only 27.6% of the sample reported no ACEs, while 39.5% reported one or two significant experiences and 32.9% reported more than two ACEs. Rates of most ACEs were quite similar across the three continents. Various ACEs were significantly associated with current DASS severity, particularly ACEs involving emotional abuse, neglect, and family conflict, violence, and breakup. Finding nearly one-third of the sample reported three or more ACEs suggest a high prevalence of ELS in otherwise healthy "normal" adults around the world. Associations between ELS and current emotional distress suggest that these events have functional relevance and deserve further investigation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)35-52
Number of pages18
JournalInternational Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine
Volume36
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - 2006

Keywords

  • Adult emotional experience
  • Adverse childhood events
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Early life stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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