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Accumulation of trauma over time and risk for depression in a twin sample

  • V. V. McCutcheon (a1), A. C. Heath (a1), E. C. Nelson (a1), K. K. Bucholz (a1), P. A. F. Madden (a1) and N. G. Martin (a2)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 04 June 2008

Few genetically informative studies have examined the effects of different types of trauma on risk for depression over time. The aim of the present study was to examine the relative contributions over time of assaultive trauma, non-assaultive trauma, and familial effects to risk for depression.


Histories of depression and trauma were obtained during structured diagnostic interviews with 5266 (mean age 29.9 years, s.d.=2.4) members of a volunteer Australian twin panel from the general population. Age at first onset of a DSM-IV major depressive episode was the dependent variable. Associations of depression with traumatic events were examined while accounting for the temporal sequence of trauma and depression and familial effects.


Assaultive traumatic events that occurred during childhood had the strongest association with immediate and long-term risk for depression, and outweighed familial effects on childhood-onset depression for most twins. Although men and women endorsed equal rates of assaultive trauma, women reported a greater accumulation of assaultive events at earlier ages than men, whereas men reported a greater accumulation of non-assaultive events at all ages.


Early exposure to assaultive trauma can influence risk for depression into adulthood. Concordance for early trauma is a significant contributor to the familiality of early-onset depression.

Corresponding author
*Address for correspondence: V. V. McCutcheon, Ph.D., Midwest Alcoholism Research Center, Department of Psychiatry, Washington University School of Medicine, 660 South Euclid Ave., Campus Box 8134, St Louis, MO 63110, USA. (Email:
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