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Identifying factors that contribute to mental health difficulties in young people as early in life as possible are needed to inform prevention strategies. One area of interest is attachment. Although existing research has suggested an association between insecure attachment styles and mental health difficulties, these studies often have small sample sizes, use cross-sectional designs, and measure attachment as a discrete variable at a single point or use romantic relationship attachment as a proxy for childhood attachment. It is also unclear whether these associations persist into late adolescence. In this large prospective study we aimed to determine whether an insecure attachment style measured at repeated points in early childhood, is associated with depression and self-harm at 18 years.
We used data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children cohort. Mothers completed attachment related questionnaires when their child was 18, 30, and 42 months old. Offspring depression and lifetime self-harm was assessed at 18 years in clinic using the Clinical Interview Schedule-Revised. Attachment was derived as a continuous latent variable in a structural equation modelling framework. Logistic regression was performed on participants with complete attachment data (n = 7032) to examine the association between attachment style and depression and self-harm, with adjustment for potential confounders. Differential dropout was accounted for using multiple imputation.
We found some evidence for an association between a more insecure attachment style in childhood, and a diagnosis of depression and life-time self-harm at age 18. In the fully adjusted imputed model, a one standard deviation increase in insecure attachment was associated with a 13% increase in the odds of depression (OR = 1.13; 95%CI = 1.00 to 1.27) and a 14% increase in the odds of self-harm at age 18 (OR = 1.14; 95%CI = 1.02 to 1.25), for children who had more insecure attachment in early childhood, compared with children who had more secure attachment.
This is the largest longitudinal study to examine the prospective association between childhood attachment and depression and self-harm in late adolescence. Our findings strengthen the evidence suggesting that a childhood insecure attachment style is associated with mental health difficulties in late adolescence. Policies and interventions to support parenting behaviours that foster the development of secure attachment styles, or attachment-based therapies to improve attachment quality, could help reduce depression and self-harm in adolescence/young adulthood.
Philippa Clery is supported by the Elizabeth Blackwell Institute for Health Research at the University of Bristol and the Wellcome Trust Institutional Strategic Support Fund.
Low resting heart rate (RHR) is a consistent biological correlate of antisocial behaviour (ASB), however potential mechanisms have been largely unexplored. We hypothesise that lower RHR will be associated with higher ASB levels in mid-adolescence and persistence into adulthood, and that these associations will be explained, in part, by sensation seeking and callous-unemotional traits.
ASB was assessed repeatedly with young people from ages 15 to 21 years in a population-based birth cohort (ALSPAC). A longitudinal trajectory was derived and showed ASB decreasing across adolescence before stabilising in early adulthood. RHR was recorded at age 12 years, and mediators were assessed at age 14 years.
After adjusting for socio-demographic confounders, there was evidence for a total effect of RHR on ASB levels in mid-adolescence [b(95% CI) = −0.08 (−0.14 to −0.02)], reflecting 0.08 more types of antisocial activity in the last year per 10 fewer heart beats per minute. This effect was almost entirely explained through sensation seeking [b(95% CI) = −0.06 (−0.08 to −0.04)]. After additionally adjusting for child and parent-related confounders, all effects weakened; however, there was still evidence of an indirect effect of RHR, via sensation seeking, on ASB levels in mid-adolescence [b(95% CI) = −0.01 (−0.03 to −0.003)]. There was no evidence for a total effect of RHR on ASB levels in early adulthood, and weak evidence of an indirect effect, via sensation seeking [b(95% CI) = −0.01 (−0.01 to −0.00)].
Lower RHR in childhood was associated with higher ASB levels in mid-adolescence, indirectly via sensation seeking.
Past research has identified maternal depression and family of origin maltreatment as precursors to adolescent depression and antisocial behavior. Caregiving experiences have been identified as a factor that may ameliorate or accentuate adolescent psychopathology trajectories. Using a multilevel approach that pools the unique attributes of two geographically diverse, yet complementary, longitudinal research designs, the present study examined the role of maternal caregiver involvement as a factor that promotes resilience-based trajectories related to depressive symptoms and antisocial behaviors among adolescent girls. The first sample comprises a group of US-based adolescent girls in foster care (n = 100; mean age = 11.50 years), each of whom had a history of childhood maltreatment and removal from their biological parent(s). The second sample comprises a group of UK-based adolescent girls at high familial risk for depression (n = 145; mean age = 11.70 years), with all girls having biological mothers who experienced recurrent depression. Analyses examined the role of maternal caregiving on girls' trajectories of depression and antisocial behavior, while controlling for levels of co-occurring psychopathology at each time point. Results suggest increasing levels of depressive symptoms for girls at familial risk for depression but decreasing levels of depression for girls in foster care. Foster girls' antisocial behavior also decreased over time. Maternal caregiver involvement was differentially related to intercept and slope parameters in both samples. Results are discussed with respect to the benefits of applying multilevel (multisample, multiple outcome) approaches to identifying family-level factors that can reduce negative developmental outcomes in high-risk youth.
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