The long shadow of childhood trauma for depression in midlife: Examining daily psychological stress processes as a persistent risk pathway

Stefanie E. Mayer, Agus Surachman, Aric A. Prather, Eli Puterman, Kevin L. Delucchi, Michael R. Irwin, Andrea Danese, David M. Almeida, Elissa S. Epel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalPsychological medicine
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Applied Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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