Why study adversity and mental health?

Mental disorders leading cause of disability worldwide

  • ~13% of the global population diagnosed with a mental disorder = ~971 million people1
  • ~20% of the world’s children and adolescents have a mental health condition
  • Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among 15-29-year-olds
  • Significant prevalence worldwide with considerable social and economic burden

Our social and physical environments have direct and interconnected influences on our mental health outcomes

  • Children, in particular, are very sensitive to exposures in their environment
  • Early-life adversity (ELA) refers to:
    • Prenatal events
    • Childhood abuse (physical and sexual)
    • Parental neglect
    • Parental loss
    • Parental mental illness in childhood
    • Early-life exposure to natural disasters and wars
    • Economic deprivation in childhood
  • Exposure to adversity during this early-life period has important consequences

ELA is the single most important predictor of lifetime negative mental health outcomes

  • ELA is associated with greater than 28% of psychiatric disorders2
  • Individuals exposed to ELA exhibit an earlier onset and worse course of mental illness, as well as weaker treatment response and higher comorbidity rates than unexposed individuals
  • The increased risk is observed across all psychiatric disorders, with strong associations reported for depression, anxiety, psychosis, and substance use disorder3


1. 2017 Global Burden of Disease Study report published by WHO

2. McLaughlin, K.A., Greif Green, J., Gruber, M.J., Sampson, N.A., Zaslavsky, A.M. & Kessler, R.C. Childhood adversities and first onset of psychiatric disorders in a national sample of US adolescents. Arch Gen Psychiatry 69, 1151-1160 (2012).

3. Teicher, M.H. & Samson, J.A. Childhood maltreatment and psychopathology: A case for ecophenotypic variants as clinically and neurobiologically distinct subtypes. The American journal of psychiatry 170, 1114-1133 (2013).