The relationship between childhood adversity, recent stressors, and depression in college students attending a South African university
CITATION: Mall, S., et al, 2018. The relationship between childhood adversity, recent stressors, and depression in college students attending a South African university. BMC Psychiatry, 18:63, doi:10.1186/s12888-017-1583-9.
The original publication is available at https://bmcpsychiatry.biomedcentral.com
Background: College students are at risk of depression. This risk may be increased by the experience of childhood adversity and/or recent stressors. This study examined the association between reported experiences of childhood adversity, recent stressors and depression during the last 12 months in a cohort of South African university students. Methods: Six hundred and eighty-six first year students at Stellenbosch University in South Africa completed a health-focused e-survey that included items on childhood adversity, recent stressors and mood. Individual and population attributable risk proportions (PARP) between experiences of childhood adversity and 12-month stressful experiences and 12-month depression were estimated using multivariate binomial logistic regression analysis. Results: About one in six students reported depression during the last 12 months. Being a victim of bullying and emotional abuse or emotional neglect during childhood were the strongest predictors of depression in the past year at both individual and population level. With regard to recent stressors, a romantic partner being unfaithful, serious ongoing arguments or break-ups with some other close friend or family member and a sexual or gender identity crisis were the strongest predictors of depression. The predictor effect of recent stressors was significantly reduced in the final model that adjusted for the type and number of childhood traumatic experiences. At a population level, academic stress, serious ongoing arguments or break-ups with a close friend or family member, and serious betrayal by someone close were the variables that yielded the highest PARP. Conclusions: Our findings suggest a significant relationship between early adversity, recent stressors, and depression here and throughout, consistent with the broader literature on predictors of depression. This study contributes to the limited data on college students’ mental health in low and middle income countries including on the African continent. The findings provide information on the population level effect sizes of trauma as a risk factor for depression, as well as on the relationship between specific recent stressors and depression in college students.