Childhood trauma does much more than simply affect a child's mental state for the time it occurs. In fact, a recent study from the Journal of Affective Disorders shows that children who experience trauma are more likely to have high levels of trait anxiety, depression, alcohol use, and anxiety sensitivity. The study also found that girls score higher on anxiety sensitivity than boys, despite having similar rates of trauma.

If not properly treated, childhood trauma can have long-lasting effects. People who experience something traumatic as a child are more likely to develop mental health problems, like anxiety and depression, later on. Trauma also affects the neural pathways associated with fear, causing anxiety and depression later in life. This study shows more of the risk factors associated with anxiety, which could help psychologists and therapists develop better treatment plans for people who have experienced childhood trauma.

More on the Study

To measure the effects of traumatic experiences, researchers took a sample of 1149 students from 29 secondary schools in South Africa. Students were asked to complete several questionnaires to see if they experienced a trauma and their psychological states. Questionnaires included the:

  • Childhood Anxiety Sensitivity Index (CASI)
  • State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI)
  • Childhood Trauma Questionnaire (CTQ)
  • Centre for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale for Children (CES-DC)
  • Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT)
  • Drug Use Disorders Identification Test (DUDIT)
  • Connor-Davidson Resilience Scale (CD-RISC)
  • Adolescent Coping Orientation for Problem Experiences (A-COPE)

From this data, researchers observed that:

  • Girls in the study had a higher anxiety sensitivity, regardless of childhood trauma.
  • Girls and boys had relatively equal trauma rates.
  • Boys in the study had a higher rate of substance use.
  • Youth who experience childhood trauma were more likely to have high levels of trait anxiety, depression, or alcohol use, which led to higher levels of anxiety sensitivity.

What This Means for People Who Have Experienced a Childhood Trauma

Childhood traumatic events are hard experiences to overcome. Having a mental health concern only complicates things and makes confronting what happened even more difficult. With this newly discovered information, general practitioners, psychiatrists, and therapists can better refer a child, teenager, or adult who has undergone a trauma at an early age.

If left untreated, childhood trauma can leave mental scars on the lives of those affected by them. By talking to a doctor as soon as possible, those affected can find relief from their anxieties sooner, bettering their lives overall.

Date of original publication:


Lindi Martin, Monet Viljoen, Martin Kidd, Soraya Seedat. Are childhood trauma exposures predictive of anxiety sensitivity in school attending youth? Journal of Affective Disorders, 2014. DOI: 10.1016/j.jad.2014.06.035