Effect of childhood emotional abuse on depression and anxiety in adulthood is partially mediated by neuroticism: Evidence from a large online sample

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Abstract

Childhood trauma is widely recognized as a potential risk factor for psychiatric illness in adulthood, yet the precise mechanisms underlying this relationship remain incompletely understood. One proposed mechanism involves the impact of childhood trauma on personality development, particularly in relation to neuroticism, which may subsequently heighten susceptibility to psychiatric disorders. In this study, we aimed to investigate this hypothesis through an online survey involving 1116 participants (232 male, 21 %). Participants completed the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire (CTQ), assessing emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional neglect, and physical neglect, along with the Trait Self-Description Inventory (TSDI) for personality assessment and the PHQ-9 and GAD-7 clinical questionnaires for depression and anxiety symptoms evaluation, respectively. Our analyses revealed significant positive correlations between all facets of childhood trauma and neuroticism (all p <.01). Linear regression analysis demonstrated that emotional abuse significantly contributed to neuroticism (β = 0.267, p <.05), openness (β = 0.142, p <.05), and agreeableness (β = 0.089, p <.05), while sexual abuse was associated with agreeableness (β = 0.137, p <.01) Emotional neglect was negatively correlated with conscientiousness (β = −0.090, p <.01), extroversion (β = −0.109, p <.01) and agreeableness (β = −0.154, p <.01). Furthermore, linear regression analysis revealed that emotional abuse was positively and significantly correlated with PHQ-9 and GAD-7 scores (r = 0.330, p <.01 and r = 0.327, p <.01, respectively). Mediation analysis supported a significant mediating role of neuroticism in the association between childhood emotional abuse and both depression (PHQ-9) (z = 8.681, p <.01) and anxiety (GAD-7) (z = 9.206, p <.01). Notably, the correlation between childhood emotional abuse and psychiatric symptoms was attenuated but not eliminated after controlling for neuroticism, suggesting partial mediation. While our cross-sectional design precludes causal inference, our findings support the notion that childhood emotional abuse may contribute to increased neuroticism, thereby elevating vulnerability to affective disorders in adulthood. These results underscore the importance of considering personality factors in understanding the long-term consequences of childhood trauma on mental health outcomes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)158-163
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
Volume359
Early online date10 May 2024
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 10 May 2024

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