Background. Childhood adversity places individuals with major depression at risk for anxiety and dysthymia co-morbidity. The goal of the present paper is to broaden this area of research by examining specificity between the type of adversity (e.g. abuse versus neglect/indifference) and the resulting co-morbid disorder (e.g. anxiety versus dysthymia co-morbidity).
Method. The volunteer sample consisted of 76 women meeting Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-IV) criteria for major depression. Of these, 28 were diagnosed with a co-morbid anxiety disorder and 21 were diagnosed with co-morbid dysthymia. Childhood physical abuse, sexual abuse, psychological abuse, antipathy and indifference were assessed using a contextual interview and rating system.
Results. Severe sexual abuse and psychological abuse were significantly and preferentially associated with co-morbid anxiety, while severe physical abuse was significantly and preferentially associated with co-morbid dysthymia. Indifference and antipathy were significantly associated with both co-morbid anxiety and dysthymia. Multivariate analyses revealed that severe sexual abuse was the adverse childhood experience most strongly associated with co-morbid anxiety.
Conclusions. These results suggest that particular adverse experiences in childhood do set up specific vulnerabilities to the expression of anxiety versus dysthymia co-morbidity in adulthood major depression. Cognitive mediators of these associations are discussed as avenues of future research.