Cumulative Histories of Co-Occurring Childhood Adversities and Trajectories of Psychological Distress in Adulthood

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 16:18
Oral Presentation
Loanna HEIDINGER, University of Western Ontario, Canada
Childhood stressors often do not occur as isolated circumstances; instead, adverse childhood experiences tend to co-occur, resulting in an accumulation of risk with detrimental consequences for mental health. The enduring impact of cumulative childhood adversity on mental health is well documented in the literature; however, data constraints dictating the number and types of adversities included in studies have contributed to the exclusion of important contextual stressors, such as neighbourhood and school environment adversities, that have been linked to adult mental health. In addition, recent evidence reveals heterogeneity among adverse childhood experiences that cannot be captured using a simple sum score, the most commonly used measure of cumulative childhood adversity.

The present study utilizes 14 years of data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics Childhood Retrospective Circumstances Study to examine the impact of heterogenous histories of co-occurring childhood adversities on long-term trajectories of adult psychological distress. First, seven latent classes of distinct patterns of cumulative childhood adversity were identified using 25 indicators of adversity across multiple childhood domains. Next, latent growth curve modeling was used to examine the effects of the latent classes of cumulative childhood adversity on trajectories of psychological distress from early to late adulthood. The results indicate that respondents with a high probability of experiencing any adversity during childhood, regardless of latent class membership, reported higher levels of distress in adulthood. However, only membership in the class with a high probability of experiencing multiple adversities across different childhood domains significantly increased psychological distress over time. The findings suggest that there are variations in the experience of the accumulation of adverse childhood experiences that have important implications for long-term levels of psychological distress. Latent class analysis captures the heterogeneity in patterns of multiple, co-occurring adverse childhood experiences that sum scores cannot, and which may lead to model misspecification.