Exposure to childhood violence linked to psychiatric disorders


March 8, 2019 — Investing in diminishing socioeconomic status inequalities and in preventing violent events during childhood may improve the mental health of youths from low socioeconomic status backgrounds, according to a study conducted by researchers at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health and Federal University of São Paulo. The results showed that having experienced any traumatic event and low socioeconomic status were associated with an internalizing disorder such as depression and anxiety and an externalizing disorder including attention-deficit hyperactivity. The results are published online in the Brazilian Journal of Psychiatry.

The study was conducted in two different neighborhoods in the city of São Paulo, Brazil, one urban and one more rural. One-hundred and eighty 12-year-olds from public schools and their caregivers were interviewed to determine the influence of previous violent events and of socioeconomic status on the prevalence of psychiatric disorders.

Using structured interviews, the research team led by Silvia Martins, MD, PhD, Mailman School associate professor of Epidemiology, evaluated psychiatric disorders including: internalizing disorders (depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder) and externalizing disorders (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, conduct disorder and oppositional-defiant disorder).

Nearly one-quarter (22 percent) of the youths had a psychiatric disorder. Depression and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder were the most common diagnoses, at 9.5 percent, and 9 percent, respectively, followed by anxiety disorder at 6 percent.

A total of 14 percent of the sample had an internalizing disorder, nearly half of whom were males (45 percent). Another 15.5 percent had an externalizing disorder. Almost 60 percent of the adolescents with any diagnosis had experienced at least one violent event during their lifetime.

"If Brazil invests more to tackle socio-economic inequalities as well as to prevent exposure to urban violence in childhood and adolescence, the country will most likely be able to prevent the development of several cases of adolescent psychiatric disorders," said Martins.


Co-authors are Qixuan Chen, Mailman School of Public Health, and Thiago Fidalgo, Sheila Caetano, Zila Sanchez, Solange Andreoni, and Adriana Sanudo, Universidade Federal de São Paulo. The study was funded by Columbia University President's Global Innovation Fund.

Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health

Founded in 1922, Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health pursues an agenda of research, education, and service to address the critical and complex public health issues affecting New Yorkers, the nation and the world. The Mailman School is the third largest recipient of NIH grants among schools of public health. Its over 450 multi-disciplinary faculty members work in more than 100 countries around the world, addressing such issues as preventing infectious and chronic diseases, environmental health, maternal and child health, health policy, climate change & health, and public health preparedness. It is a leader in public health education with over 1,300 graduate students from more than 40 nations pursuing a variety of master's and doctoral degree programs. The Mailman School is also home to numerous world-renowned research centers including ICAP and the Center for Infection and Immunity. For more information, please visit http://www.mailman.columbia.edu.

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