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Depress Anxiety. 2010 Jul;27(7):631-42. doi: 10.1002/da.20687.

Child sexual abuse in the etiology of depression: A systematic review of reviews.

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Department of Pedagogic, Psychological, and Didactic Sciences, University of Salento, Lecce, Italy.



Despite a large amount of research, there is considerable controversy about the role that child sexual abuse plays in the etiology of depression. To prevent interpretative difficulties, mistaken beliefs, or confusion among professionals who turn to this literature for guidance, this article addresses the best available scientific evidence on the topic, by providing a systematic review of the several reviews that have investigated the literature on the issue.


Seven databases were searched, supplemented with hand search of reference lists from retrieved papers. The author and a psychiatrist independently evaluated the eligibility of all studies identified, abstracted data, and assessed study quality. Disagreements were resolved by consensus.


Four reviews, including about 60,000 subjects from 160 studies and having no limitations that could invalidate their results, were analyzed. There is evidence that child sexual abuse is a significant, although general and nonspecific, risk factor for depression. The relationship ranges from small-to-medium in magnitude and is moderated by sample source. Additional variables may either act independently to promote depression in people with a history of sexual abuse or interact with such traumatic experience to increase the likelihood of depression in child abuse survivors.


For all victims of abuse, programs should focus not only on treating symptoms, but also on reducing additional risk factors. Depressed adults who seek psychiatric treatment should be enquired about early abuse within admission procedures.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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