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01.12.2017 | Research article | Ausgabe 1/2017 Open Access

BMC Psychiatry 1/2017

Early adversity and psychiatric symptoms – a prospective study on Ethiopian mothers and their children

BMC Psychiatry > Ausgabe 1/2017
Johan Isaksson, Negussie Deyessa, Yemane Berhane, Ulf Högberg



Maternal exposure to adversity during the perinatal period has been associated with increased susceptibility for psychiatric symptoms in the offspring. The aim of this study was to investigate a possible developmental effect of maternal perinatal stressors on emotional and behavioural symptoms in the offspring in a developing country.


We followed an Ethiopian birth cohort (N = 358), assessing intimate partner violence (IPV) and maternal psychiatric symptoms during the perinatal period and at follow-up 10 years later, as a proxy for adversity, and maternal ratings on the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) 10 years later as the outcome.


Among the women, exposure to IPV was common (60.6%) during the perinatal period and predicted IPV (29.9% of the mothers) at follow-up (ρ = 0.132; p = 0.012). There was also an association between maternal psychiatric symptoms at the two time points (ρ = 0.136; p = 0.010) and between maternal symptoms and IPV. Current maternal symptoms of anxiety and depression (β = 0.057; p < 0.001), but not during the perinatal period, were associated with child CBCL-scores.


Our findings do not support the hypothesis that early adversity increase susceptibility for psychiatric symptoms. However, the findings emphasize the public health problem of IPV in this population, adding to the women’s mental health problem.
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