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Soc Sci Med. 2010 Nov;71(10):1847-54. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2010.08.015. Epub 2010 Sep 15.

Adversities in childhood and adult psychopathology in the South Africa Stress and Health Study: associations with first-onset DSM-IV disorders.

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Harvard School of Public Health, Harvard University, 677 Huntington Ave, Boston, MA 02115, United States.


Extensive epidemiologic research from the United States demonstrates that childhood adversities (CAs) are predictive of several psychiatric outcomes, including depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and externalizing disorders. To date, this has not been explored in a national sample of adults in South Africa. The present study examined the joint predictive effects of 11 retrospectively reported CAs on the first onset of DSM-IV disorders in the South Africa Stress and Health Study (SASH), a nationally representative sample of adults. We utilized substantively plausible regression models of joint CA effects that account for the comorbidity between individual CAs; outcomes included DSM-IV anxiety disorders, mood disorders, substance use disorders, and externalizing disorders measured with the WHO Composite International Diagnostic Interview. The results indicated that experiences of CA varied by race, and many CAs were correlated with one another. The best-fitting model for first onset of any disorder included separate indicators for each type of CA, in addition to indicator variables for the number of other CAs reported. Results disaggregated by class of disorder showed that the majority of CAs with significant odds ratios only predicted anxiety disorder. Results disaggregated by life course stage of first onset showed that significant effects of CAs can be observed at each stage of the life course. This study contributes to a growing body of research on the social determinants of mental health in South Africa. Our findings illustrate the importance of utilizing a model that accounts for the clustering and accumulation of CAs, and suggest that a variety of CAs predict onset of mental disorders, particularly anxiety disorders, at several stages of the life course.

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