Childhood maltreatment and adult medical morbidity in mood disorders: comparison of unipolar depression with bipolar disorder

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BACKGROUND: The medical burden in mood disorders is high; various factors are thought to drive this pattern. Little research has examined the role of childhood maltreatment and its effects on medical morbidity in adulthood among people with unipolar depression and bipolar disorder.AimsThis is the first study to explore the association between childhood maltreatment and medical morbidity in bipolar disorder and in unipolar depression, and examine whether the impact of abuse and neglect are distinct or combined.

METHOD: The participants consisted of 354 psychiatrically healthy controls, 248 participants with recurrent unipolar depression and 72 with bipolar disorder. Participants completed the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire and received a validated medical history interview.

RESULTS: Any type of childhood maltreatment, child abuse and child neglect were significantly associated with the medical burden in bipolar disorder, but not unipolar depression or for controls. These associations worked in a dose-response fashion where participants with bipolar disorder with a history of two or more types of childhood maltreatment had the highest odds of having a medical illness relative to those without such history or those who reported one form. No such significant dose-response patterns were detected for participants with unipolar depression or controls.

CONCLUSIONS: These findings suggest that childhood maltreatment may play a stronger role in the development of medical illnesses in individuals with bipolar disorder relative to those with unipolar depression. Individuals who had been maltreated with a mood disorder, especially bipolar disorder may benefit most from prevention and intervention efforts surrounding physical health.Declaration of interestNone.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)645-653
Number of pages9
JournalBritish Journal of Psychiatry
Issue number5
Early online date20 Sept 2018
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2018


  • Bipolar affective disorders
  • depressive disorders
  • medical comorbidity
  • trauma


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