Child maltreatment and incident mental disorders in middle and older ages: a retrospective UK Biobank cohort study

John M Macpherson, Stuart R Gray, Patrick Ip, Marianne McCallum, Peter Hanlon, Paul Welsh, Ko Ling Chan, Frances S Mair, Carlos Celis-Morales, Helen Minnis, Jill P Pell, Frederick K Ho

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Background: Understanding the mental health consequences of child maltreatment at different life stages is important in accurately quantifying the burden of maltreatment. This study investigated the association between child maltreatment and incident mental disorders in middle and older age as well as the potential mediators and moderators. Methods: This is a retrospective cohort study of 56,082 participants from UK Biobank. Child maltreatment was recalled using the Childhood Trauma Screener. Incident mental disorders, including depressive, anxiety and affective disorders, behavioural syndromes, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), schizophrenia, substance abuse, and dementia, after baseline assessment were ascertained through linkage to primary care records. Findings: There was a dose-response relationship between child maltreatment and mental disorder. Those who experienced three or more maltreatment types had the highest risk of all mental disorders (HR 1.85, 95% CI: 1.67-2.06) followed by those who experienced two (HR 1.48, 95% CI: 1.35-1.63) and then one (HR 1.26, 95% CI: 1.19-2.35). Child maltreatment was most strongly associated with PTSD (HR 1.59, 95% CI: 1.20-2.10 P=0.001). The excess risk was largely unexplained by the included mediators. The association between child maltreatment and all mental disorders were stronger among participants who binge drank (P interaction=0.003) or had few social visits (P interaction=0.003). Interpretation: The mental health consequence of child maltreatment could last decades, even among those who had no recorded mental disorders in early adulthood. In the absence of strong mediators, prevention of child maltreatment remains the priority.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100224
JournalThe Lancet Regional Health - Europe
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021


  • Child Abuse
  • Mental Health
  • Cohort Studies


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