Background Childhood trauma (CT) increases the risk of adult depression. Buffering effects require an understanding of the underlying persistent risk pathways. This study examined whether daily psychological stress processes-how an individual interprets and affectively responds to minor everyday events-mediate the effect of CT on adult depressive symptoms. Methods Middle-aged women (N = 183) reported CT at baseline and completed daily diaries of threat appraisals and negative evening affect for 7 days at baseline, 9, and 18 months. Depressive symptoms were measured across the 1.5-year period. Mediation was examined using multilevel structural equation modeling. Results Reported CT predicted greater depressive symptoms over the 1.5-year time period (estimate = 0.27, s.e. = 0.07, 95% CI 0.15-0.38, p < 0.001). Daily threat appraisals and negative affect mediated the effect of reported CT on depressive symptoms (estimate = 0.34, s.e. = 0.08, 95% CI 0.22-0.46, p < 0.001). Daily threat appraisals explained more than half of this effect (estimate = 0.19, s.e. = 0.07, 95% CI 0.08-0.30, p = 0.004). Post hoc analyses in individuals who reported at least moderate severity of CT showed that lower threat appraisals buffered depressive symptoms. A similar pattern was found in individuals who reported no/low severity of CT. Conclusions A reported history of CT acts as a latent vulnerability, exaggerating threat appraisals of everyday events, which trigger greater negative evening affect-processes that have important mental health consequences and may provide malleable intervention targets.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Applied Psychology
- Psychiatry and Mental health