Childhood trauma is common and associated with mental ill health. While high rates of trauma are observed across individual disorders, there is evidence that trauma is associated with an admixture of affective, anxiety and psychotic symptoms in adults. Given that early onset of mental disorder and trauma exposure herald poor outcomes, it is important to examine trauma prevalence rates in youth mental health services and to determine whether this trauma-related clustering is present in help-seeking young people.
We used data from the Transitions Study, a longitudinal investigation of young people attending headspace youth mental health services in Australia between January 2011 and August 2012. Participants were 775 young people aged 12-25. Childhood trauma was assessed using the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire. Multinomial regression was used to assess whether reported childhood trauma was more strongly associated with the co-occurrence of depression, anxiety, mania and psychosis symptoms than with any one in isolation.
Approximately 84% of participants reported some form of abuse (emotional: 68%; physical: 32%; sexual: 22%) or neglect (emotional: 65%; physical: 46%). Exposure to multiple trauma types was common. Childhood trauma was significantly associated with each symptom domain. More severe childhood trauma was more strongly associated with the co-occurrence of symptoms than with any one symptom domain in isolation, such that more severely trauma-exposed young people were more likely to experience increased symptom clustering.
Childhood trauma is pervasive in youth mental health services and associated with a symptom profile that cuts across traditional diagnostic boundaries.