Effect of Childhood Poverty and Trauma on Adult Depressive Symptoms Among Young Men in Peri-Urban South African Settlements

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Purpose: Depressive disorders contribute to health declines among young men, but little is known about how childhood trauma alongside poverty alters depressive symptoms in young adulthood. These life-course dynamics are particularly under-researched in African settings. Methods: We assessed how childhood trauma and poverty were associated with depressive symptomology among young men (aged 18–30 years). Data were collected through community-based surveys in two peri-urban, South African settlements. Validated measures assessed childhood abuse, depressive symptomology, and food insecurity. Markers of childhood poverty and young adult socioeconomic predictors were also assessed. Results: A total of 2,427 young men reported low levels of income, food security, and education. One-third of the sample (39.2%) reported symptoms consistent with probable depression. The majority (76.9%) reported one or more forms of childhood abuse, which was predicted by childhood hunger. Compared with counterparts without childhood trauma, those with physical, sexual, or psychological childhood abuse had a higher risk of later depressive symptoms (adjusted odds ratio [AOR]=2.37,2.42,2.39, respectively). A fully saturated linear mixed model showed each form of childhood trauma predicted increased depressive symptomology in adulthood, with the combination of physical, sexual, and psychological abuse strongly predicting increased depressive symptoms (coef=6.78, 95%CI=5.78–8.17). In all models, childhood poverty and adult poverty independently predicted young adult depressive symptoms. Conclusion: Household poverty may be a key reason that children experience abuse and, in turn, common mental disorders in young adulthood. Structural interventions for food security, employment, and parenting are essential to break the intergenerational nexus of poverty, trauma, and health in peri-urban settings.




Hatcher, A. M., Gibbs, A., Jewkes, R., McBride, R. S., Peacock, D., & Christofides, N. (2019). Effect of Childhood Poverty and Trauma on Adult Depressive Symptoms Among Young Men in Peri-Urban South African Settlements. Journal of Adolescent Health, 64(1), 79–85. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jadohealth.2018.07.026

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