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Am J Epidemiol. 2007 Nov 15;166(10):1126-33. Epub 2007 Sep 17.

Depressive symptoms in adults separated from their parents as children: a natural experiment during World War II.

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Department of Psychology, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland.


Despite the significance of childhood trauma for later life, there is little evidence on the long-term consequences of parent-child separation. World War II created a unique natural experiment that allowed the authors to test whether 1) evacuation to temporary foster care unaccompanied by either parent and 2) separation from the father because of his military service predicted depressive symptoms later on. Members of the Helsinki 1934-1944 Birth Cohort (n = 1,658) filled out the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) at the ages of 61.6 (standard deviation: 2.9) and 63.4 (standard deviation: 2.9) years. The mean of the two BDI scores was used as the dependent variable. The data on separation experiences were extracted from the Finnish National Archives and from a survey among the participants. Former evacuees (n = 410) reported 20% (95% confidence interval: 8.7, 33.1) more severe depressive symptoms, and the odds ratio was 1.7 (95% confidence interval: 1.1, 2.6) for having at least mild (BDI score: > or =10) symptoms over time compared with those who were not separated. Those separated from their father because of the father's military assignment (n = 744) did not differ from those who were not separated.

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