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Childhood physical and sexual abuse and subsequent depressive and anxiety disorders for two American Indian tribes


Background. This study examined the relationship of childhood abuse, both physical and sexual, with subsequent lifetime depressive and anxiety disorders – depression or dysthymia, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and panic or generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) – among American Indians (AIs).

Method. Three thousand and eighty-four AIs from two tribes – Southwest and Northern Plains – participated in a large-scale, community-based study. Participants were asked about traumatic events and family history, and were administered standard diagnostic measures of depressive/anxiety disorders.

Results. Prevalence of childhood physical abuse was approximately 7% for both tribes. The Southwest tribe had higher prevalence of depressive and anxiety disorders, with rates of PTSD being the highest. Childhood physical abuse was significant in bivariate models of depressive/anxiety disorders, and remained so in the multivariate models.

Conclusions. Childhood physical abuse was a significant predictor of all disorder groups for males in both tribes except for panic/GAD for the Northern Plains tribe in multivariate models; females showed a more varied pattern. Childhood sexual abuse did not significantly differ for males and females, and was an independent predictor of PTSD for both tribes, controlling for childhood physical abuse and other factors, and was significant for the other disorder groups only in the Southwest. Additional covariates that increased the odds of depressive/anxiety disorders were adult physical or sexual victimization, chronic illness, lifetime alcohol or drug disorder, and parental problems with depression, alcohol, or violence. Results provided empirical evidence of childhood and later life risk factors and expanded the population at risk to include males.

Corresponding author
Dr Anne M. Libby, Nighthorse Campbell Native Health Building, Mail Stop F800, PO Box 6508, Aurora, CO 80045-0508, USA. (Email:
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Psychological Medicine
  • ISSN: 0033-2917
  • EISSN: 1469-8978
  • URL: /core/journals/psychological-medicine
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