Do Single Experiences of Childhood Abuse Increase Psychopathology Symptoms in Adulthood?

Wail Abdulmalik Rehan, Jan Antfolk, Ada Johansson, Pekka Santtila

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18 Citations (Scopus)


Experiencing emotional, physical, and/or sexual abuse in childhood increases the risk (compared with baseline) of developing psychopathological symptoms in adulthood. In the present study, we explored the effects of experiencing only a single abusive event on adulthood psychopathology, and compared this with the risk in individuals with no abusive experiences and with the risk in individuals with several abusive experiences. We used a Finnish populationbased sample of 10,980 adult participants (3,766 male and 7,214 female twins and their siblings). The participants reported abuse experiences using the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire (CTQ) and current psychopathology symptoms using the depression and anxiety scales of the Brief SymptomInventory–18 (BSI-18). We found that in both men and women even singleexperiences of emotional and sexual abuse were associated with increasedpsychopathology symptoms compared with no abuse experiences. Singleexperiences of physical abuse did not, however, increase the risk in eitherwomen or men. As expected, experiences of repeated abuse (of all abusetypes) increased the risk of psychopathology symptoms compared with experiences of single abuse. When we isolated individuals who only had a single experience of any type of abuse (i.e., emotional, physical, or sexual) to control for possible co-morbidity, no increased risk was found. This study shows that individuals who report experiencing single events of abuse of a specific abuse type have an increased risk of displaying psychopathology symptoms in adulthood. This increase is, however, mainly due to co-morbidity of abuse types.
Original languageUndefined/Unknown
Pages (from-to)1–18
JournalJournal of Interpersonal Violence
VolumePublished online
Publication statusPublished - 2016
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • childhood abuse
  • mental health and violence
  • Depressive disorders
  • anxiety
  • physical abuse
  • sexual abuse
  • psychopathology

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