Maltreatment during childhood and risk for common mental disorders among first year university students in South Africa
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Purpose: Childhood maltreatment elevates risk for common mental disorders (CMDs) during late adolescence and adulthood. Although CMDs are highly prevalent among university students, few studies have examined the relationship between childhood maltreatment and 12 month CMDs in a low- to middle-income countries. This paper describes the prevalence of maltreatment and the relationship between type, number and patterns of maltreatment exposure and 12 month CMDs among first-year university students in South Africa.
Methods: Maltreatment and CMD data were collected via well-validated self-report scales (corresponding with DSM-IV diagnoses) in a web-based survey of first-year students from two large urban universities (n = 1290) in South Africa. Various multivariate modelling approaches (additive, restrictive interactive and latent class) were used to examine the relationship between maltreatment and CMDs.
Results: Overall, 48.4% of participants reported childhood maltreatment, the most common type being emotional abuse (26.7%). Regardless of the modelling approach used, emotional abuse was the only type of maltreatment independently associated with 12-month diagnoses of major depressive disorder (MDD), generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) or drug use disorder (DUD) even after adjusting for types and number of types of maltreatment. Similarly, students in the latent class reflecting histories of emotional abuse (either alone or combined with physical abuse) were more likely to meet criteria for 12-month MDD, GAD or DUD.
Conclusion: Findings confirm the high prevalence of childhood maltreatment among South African students. As this exposure elevates risk for MDD, GAD and DUD, interventions aimed at preventing and treating CMDs among first-year students should address experiences of childhood maltreatment.
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