Childhood Trauma, Social Networks, and the Mental Health of Adult Survivors

For the Residency Research Network of Texas Investigators

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


The purpose of this study was to investigate the relationship of childhood trauma to the quality of social networks and health outcomes later in adulthood. Data were obtained from a convenience sample of 254 adults seen in one of 10 primary care clinics in the state of Texas. Standardized measures of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), stressful and supportive social relationships, medical conditions, anxiety, depression, and health-related quality of life were administered. Using latent class analysis, subjects were assigned to one of four ACE classes: (a) minimal childhood abuse (56%), (b) physical/verbal abuse of both child and mother with household alcohol abuse (13%), (c) verbal and physical abuse of child with household mental illness (12%), and (d) verbal abuse only (19%). Statistically significant differences across the four ACE classes were found for mental health outcomes in adulthood. Although respondents who were physically and verbally abused as children reported compromised mental health, this was particularly true for those who witnessed physical abuse of their mother. A similar relationship between ACE class and physical health was not found. The quality of adult social networks partly accounted for the relationship between ACE classes and mental health outcomes. Respondents exposed to ACEs with more supportive social networks as adults had diminished odds of reporting poor mental health. Conversely, increasing numbers of stressful social relationships contributed to adverse mental health outcomes. Although efforts to prevent childhood trauma remain a critical priority, the treatment of adult survivors needs to expand its focus on both strengthening social networks and decreasing the negative effects of stressful ones.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1492-1514
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Interpersonal Violence
Issue number5-6
StatePublished - Mar 1 2020


  • childhood trauma
  • mental health
  • social networks

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Applied Psychology


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