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Childhood adversities, adult risk factors and depressiveness

A population study



Childhood adversities have been associated with adulthood depressiveness, but the contribution of adult risk factors is seldom described. We examined whether adult risk factors lie on the pathway from childhood adversity to adult depressiveness (pathway hypothesis) or whether the association depends on life events (vulnerability hypothesis).


Among 21,101 randomly sampled working-aged respondents [the Health and Social Support in Finland (HeSSup) Study], the hypotheses were tested with logistic regression analysis models studying the associations between Beck Depression Inventory (BDI)-assessed depressiveness and self-reported childhood adversities alone and in combination with recent adverse events.


Childhood adversities were consistently associated with depressiveness (women, age-adjusted odds ratio 3.1, 95% confidence intervals 2.6–3.7; men, 2.6, 2.1–3.3), although the risks were decreased by more than 30% after adjustments for adult risk factors such as living alone, education, alcohol consumption, social support and negative affectivity. Childhood adversities combined with recent life events were associated with depressiveness in an additive manner. Women with childhood adversities and recent person-independent events especially had increased vulnerability for depressiveness.


The childhood adversity–depressiveness associations were partly mediated by adult risk factors, supporting a pathway from childhood adversities to depressiveness through adult risk factors. Increased vulnerability for depressiveness was found among respondents with childhood adversities in combination with recent death/illness events. The findings emphasize the importance of early risk factors when identifying persons at risk of depression.

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The HeSSup Study has been supported by grants from the Finnish Academy (project 41290), the Yrjö Jahnsson Foundation and the Emil Aaltonen Foundation. Katariina Korkeila was supported by grants from the Yrjö Jahnsson Foundation (grant 5061) and Turku University Hospital Research Fund (grant 8171/13529/03), Jussi Vahtera and Mika Kivimäki by grants from the Finnish Work Environment Fund (grants 101190 and 103432) and the Finnish Academy (projects 77560 and 105195).

We wish to acknowledge Jari Sundell, MSc, and Sami Saarelainen, student of statistics, for their assistance with data analyses. We also thank Jacqueline Välimäki, MA, and lecturer, Department of English Translation Studies, University of Turku, Finland, for checking the English language of the manuscript.

The HeSSup Study Group consists of the following researchers: Elovainio Marko, Franck Jaana, Helenius Hans, Immonen-Räihä Pirjo, Jalava-Broman Jaana, Jokinen Kirsi, Kivimäki Mika, Korkeila Jyrki, Korkeila Katariina, Koskenvuo Markku, Lillberg Kirsi, Lintula Hanna, Mattila Kari, Ojanlatva Ansa, Paljärvi Tapio, Rautava Päivi, Sillanmäki Lauri, Sumanen Markku, Suominen Sakari, Vahtera Jussi, Vainiomäki Paula, Virtanen Pekka, Volanen Salla-Maarit.

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Correspondence to Katariina Korkeila MD, PhD.

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Location of work: Dept. of Family Medicine and Dept. of Public Health, University of Turku, Finland.

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Korkeila, K., Korkeila, J., Vahtera, J. et al. Childhood adversities, adult risk factors and depressiveness. Soc Psychiat Epidemiol 40, 700–706 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00127-005-0969-x

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  • adult risk factors
  • BDI
  • childhood adversities
  • depressiveness
  • population-based