Childhood sexual abuse and psychiatric disorders in middle-aged and older adults: evidence from the 2007 Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey

Kee-Lee Chou
Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 2012, 73 (11): e1365-71

OBJECTIVE: This study aimed (1) to assess the relationship of childhood sexual abuse and revictimization with 6 common mental disorders, alcohol and drug dependence, posttraumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, and suicidal behavior; (2) to test whether gender moderates the relationship between childhood sexual abuse and psychiatric comorbidity; and (3) to assess the association of childhood sexual abuse with health care service use among middle-aged and older adults.

METHOD: The author conducted secondary analyses of data from a population-based, nationally representative sample of 3,493 community-dwelling adults aged 50 years and above who were interviewed in England in 2006 and 2007 as part of the 2007 Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey. The survey assessed childhood sexual abuse (sexual touching and sexual intercourse), sexual abuse revictimization (experiencing both childhood and adult sexual abuse), demographics, health care service use, 6 common mental disorders according to ICD-10 diagnostic criteria (depressive episode, mixed anxiety and depression, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, phobia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder), eating disorders, posttraumatic stress disorder, alcohol and drug dependence, and suicidal behavior.

RESULTS: After weighting, the prevalence of childhood sexual abuse was 8.0%, and the prevalence of revictimization was 1.9%. Multivariate analyses revealed that childhood sexual abuse was significantly associated with mixed anxiety and depression (adjusted odds ratio [AOR] = 1.69; 95% CI, 1.09-2.63), generalized anxiety disorder (AOR = 1.78; 95% CI, 1.01-3.11), eating disorders (AOR = 2.04; 95% CI, 1.12-3.75), posttraumatic stress disorder (AOR = 2.45; 95% CI, 1.20-4.99), and suicidal ideation (AOR = 2.32; 95% CI, 1.27-4.27). Revictimization was significantly related to mixed anxiety and depression (AOR = 3.21; 95% CI, 1.63-6.32), generalized anxiety disorder (AOR = 2.60; 95% CI, 1.07-6.35), phobia (AOR = 4.07; 95% CI, 1.23-13.46), posttraumatic stress disorder (AOR = 8.88; 95% CI, 3.68-21.40), and suicidal ideation (AOR = 3.03; 95% CI, 1.08-8.51). Gender did not moderate the association of childhood sexual abuse or revictimization with psychiatric disorders. Finally, both childhood sexual abuse (AOR = 3.73; 95% CI, 2.03-6.86) and revictimization (AOR = 7.54; 95% CI, 3.09-17.42) were significantly associated with psychiatric hospitalization.

CONCLUSIONS: The prevalence of childhood sexual abuse in this sample was comparable to the prevalence rates identified in previous studies. The associations of childhood sexual abuse and revictimization with a wide range of psychiatric disorders raises further questions about the underlying mechanisms in the elderly. This study also supports the notion that childhood sexual abuse and revictimization are associated with a higher rate of utilization of mental health services.

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