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Midlife adults are experiencing a crisis of deaths of despair (i.e. deaths from suicide, drug overdose, and alcohol-related liver disease). We tested the hypothesis that a syndrome of despair-related maladies at midlife is preceded by psychopathology during adolescence.
Participants are members of a representative cohort of 1037 individuals born in Dunedin, New Zealand in 1972–73 and followed to age 45 years, with 94% retention. Adolescent mental disorders were assessed in three diagnostic assessments at ages 11, 13, and 15 years. Indicators of despair-related maladies across four domains – suicidality, substance misuse, sleep problems, and pain – were assessed at age 45 using multi-modal measures including self-report, informant-report, and national register data.
We identified and validated a syndrome of despair-related maladies at midlife involving suicidality, substance misuse, sleep problems, and pain. Adults who exhibited a more severe syndrome of despair-related maladies at midlife tended to have had early-onset emotional and behavioral disorders [β = 0.23, 95% CI (0.16–0.30), p < 0.001], even after adjusting for sex, childhood SES, and childhood IQ. A more pronounced midlife despair syndrome was observed among adults who, as adolescents, were diagnosed with a greater number of mental disorders [β = 0.26, 95% CI (0.19–0.33), p < 0.001]. Tests of diagnostic specificity revealed that associations generalized across different adolescent mental disorders.
Midlife adults who exhibited a more severe syndrome of despair-related maladies tended to have had psychopathology as adolescents. Prevention and treatment of adolescent psychopathology may mitigate despair-related maladies at midlife and ultimately reduce deaths of despair.
The aim of this study was to use longitudinal population-based data to examine the associations between childhood sexual abuse (CSA) and risk for adverse outcomes in multiple life domains across adulthood. In 937 individuals followed from birth to age 45y, we assessed associations between CSA (retrospectively reported at age 26y) and the experience of 22 adverse outcomes in seven domains (physical, mental, sexual, interpersonal, economic, antisocial, multi-domain) from young adulthood to midlife (26 to 45y). Analyses controlled for sex, socioeconomic status, prospectively reported child harm and household dysfunction adverse childhood experiences, and adult sexual assault, and considered different definitions of CSA. After adjusting for confounders, CSA survivors were more likely than their peers to experience internalizing, externalizing, and thought disorders, suicide attempts, health risk behaviors, systemic inflammation, poor oral health, sexually transmitted diseases, high-conflict relationships, benefit use, financial difficulties, antisocial behavior, and cumulative problems across multiple domains in adulthood. In sum, CSA was associated with multiple persistent problems across adulthood, even after adjusting for confounding life stressors, and the risk for particular problems incremented with CSA severity. The higher risk for most specific problems was small to moderate, but the cumulative long-term effects across multiple domains reflect considerable individual and societal burden.
Despite its introduction into the diagnostic nomenclature over four decades ago, there remain large knowledge gaps about disordered gambling. The primary aims of the present study were to document the long-term course, childhood precursors, and adult life outcomes associated with disordered gambling.
Participants enrolled in the population-representative Dunedin Study were prospectively followed from birth through age 45. Disordered gambling was assessed six times from age 18; composite measures of childhood social class, general intelligence, and low self-control were based on assessments obtained from birth through age 15; adult socioeconomic, financial, and legal outcomes were obtained through age 45. Lifetime disordered gambling was predicted from the three childhood precursors and the adult outcomes were predicted from lifetime disordered gambling.
Past-year disordered gambling usually occurred at only a single time point and recurrence was relatively uncommon. Lower childhood social class, general intelligence, and self-control significantly predicted lifetime disordered gambling in adulthood. In turn, lifetime disordered gambling in adulthood significantly predicted occupational, educational, and financial problems in adulthood (ds = 0.23–0.41). These associations were markedly reduced and sometimes rendered nonsignificant after adjusting for childhood precursors (ds = 0.04–0.32).
Socioeconomic, financial, and legal outcomes in adulthood are not merely consequences of disordered gambling, but also are predicted from childhood precursors. Deflecting the trajectories of young people at risk for developing disordered gambling may help to ameliorate not just the development of later disordered gambling, but also other associated adverse outcomes.
Neuropsychological evidence supports the developmental taxonomy theory of antisocial behavior, suggesting that abnormal brain development distinguishes life-course-persistent from adolescence-limited antisocial behavior. Recent neuroimaging work confirmed that prospectively-measured life-course-persistent antisocial behavior is associated with differences in cortical brain structure. Whether this extends to subcortical brain structures remains uninvestigated. This study compared subcortical gray-matter volumes between 672 members of the Dunedin Study previously defined as exhibiting life-course-persistent, adolescence-limited or low-level antisocial behavior based on repeated assessments at ages 7–26 years. Gray-matter volumes of 10 subcortical structures were compared across groups. The life-course-persistent group had lower volumes of amygdala, brain stem, cerebellum, hippocampus, pallidum, thalamus, and ventral diencephalon compared to the low-antisocial group. Differences between life-course-persistent and adolescence-limited individuals were comparable in effect size to differences between life-course-persistent and low-antisocial individuals, but were not statistically significant due to less statistical power. Gray-matter volumes in adolescence-limited individuals were near the norm in this population-representative cohort and similar to volumes in low-antisocial individuals. Although this study could not establish causal links between brain volume and antisocial behavior, it constitutes new biological evidence that all people with antisocial behavior are not the same, supporting a need for greater developmental and diagnostic precision in clinical, forensic, and policy-based interventions.
Cognitive impairment has been identified as an important aspect of major depressive disorder (MDD). We tested two theories regarding the association between MDD and cognitive functioning using data from longitudinal cohort studies. One theory, the cognitive reserve hypothesis, suggests that higher cognitive ability in childhood decreases risk of later MDD. The second, the scarring hypothesis, instead suggests that MDD leads to persistent cognitive deficits following disorder onset. We tested both theories in the Dunedin Study, a population-representative cohort followed from birth to midlife and assessed repeatedly for both cognitive functioning and psychopathology. We also used data from the Environmental Risk Longitudinal Twin Study to test whether childhood cognitive functioning predicts future MDD risk independent of family-wide and genetic risk using a discordant twin design. Contrary to both hypotheses, we found that childhood cognitive functioning did not predict future risk of MDD, nor did study members with a past history of MDD show evidence of greater cognitive decline unless MDD was accompanied by other comorbid psychiatric conditions. Our results thus suggest that low cognitive functioning is related to comorbidity, but is neither an antecedent nor an enduring consequence of MDD. Future research may benefit from considering cognitive deficits that occur during depressive episodes from a transdiagnostic perspective.
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