Depression is one of the most common mental illnesses in Australia today, with over one million Australians experiencing depression every year (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2008).

It affects one in six people on average, with one in eight men, and one in five women experiencing depression during their lifetime (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2008).

Did you know that depression is more common in survivors of childhood trauma than other people? And that individuals who have experienced childhood abuse are more likely to develop a depressive disorder then those who have not (McLaughlin, Conron, Koenen, & Gilman, 2010)?

Depression & Child Abuse

Research has shown that up to 79.9 % of people diagnosed with depression had suffered some form of trauma, the most common being emotional and physical abuse (Moskvina et al., 2007). Depression is often worse for trauma survivors than people who haven’t experienced a trauma. It is more likely to first occur at a younger age and reoccur more often throughout life, last longer and have more severe symptoms (Klein et al., 2009; Bernet & Stein, 1999).

What is Depression

While we all feel sad, moody or low from time to time, some people experience these feelings intensely, for long periods of time (weeks, months or even years) and sometimes without any apparent reason. Depression is more than just a low mood – it’s a serious illness that has an impact on both physical and mental health (Beyond Blue, 2014).

Smith, Saisan, and Segal (2014) say possible symptoms of depression include:

  • Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. A bleak outlook—nothing will ever get better and there’s nothing you can do to improve your situation.
  • Loss of interest in daily activities. No interest in former hobbies, pastimes, social activities, or sex. You’ve lost your ability to feel joy and pleasure.
  • Appetite or weight changes. Significant weight loss or weight gain—a change of more than 5% of body weight in a month.
  • Sleep changes. Either insomnia, especially waking in the early hours of the morning, or oversleeping (also known as hypersomnia).
  • Anger or irritability. Feeling agitated, restless, or even violent. Your tolerance level is low, your temper short, and everything and everyone gets on your nerves.
  • Loss of energy. Feeling fatigued, sluggish, and physically drained. Your whole body may feel heavy, and even small tasks are exhausting or take longer to complete.
  • Self-loathing. Strong feelings of worthlessness or guilt. You harshly criticise yourself for perceived faults and mistakes.
  • Reckless behavior. You engage in escapist behavior such as alcohol and/or substance abuse, compulsive gambling, reckless driving, or dangerous sports.
  • Concentration problems. Trouble focusing, making decisions, or remembering things.
  • Unexplained aches and pains. An increase in physical complaints such as headaches, back pain, aching muscles, and stomach pain.

When we talk about childhood trauma, most people think of sexual abuse, incest, neglect, physical abuse, natural disasters and war. There is no doubt that all these things can result in depression. But childhood trauma may also include things like parental divorce, bullying, poor parenting, overly harsh discipline, and the death, injury or illness of close relatives or friends.

Our childhood experiences are unique, and so are our feelings and responses to them. Trauma can mean different things to different people, and sometimes childhood experiences can result in depression. There are many effective treatments for depression but few focus exclusively on the role of childhood trauma in depression (Craighead & Dunlop, 2014; Cuijpers, Berking, Andersson, Quigley, Kleiboer, & Dobson, 2013). Research has shown us that people who don’t receive treatment for depression take longer to recover. The same is true for people who have suffered childhood trauma.

If you or a loved one suffer from depression and feel that your childhood experiences are a contributing factor, please call or email the HFL Foundation and we will help you.

If you are interested in the role of childhood trauma in depression or other psychiatric disorders, please see the Australian Trauma Recovery, Growth and Resilience Research Bulletin for some of the most current research in the field.


Australian Bureau of Statistics (2008) National survey of mental health and wellbeing: Summary of results. Canberra: ABS.

Beyond Blue (2014) Depression. Retrieved from

Bernet, C. Z., & Stein, M. B. (1999). Relationship of childhood maltreatment to the onset and course of major depression in adulthood. Depression and Anxiety, 9, 169–174.

Craighead, W. E., & Dunlop, B. W. (2014). Combination psychotherapy and antidepressant medication treatment for depression: For whom, when, and how. Annual review of psychology, 65, 267-300.

Cuijpers, P., Berking, M., Andersson, G., Quigley, L., Kleiboer, A., & Dobson, K. S. (2013). In review a meta-analysis of cognitive-behavioural therapy for adult depression, alone and in comparison with other treatments. Canadian journal of psychiatry, 58, 376-385.

Klein, D. N., Arnow, B. A., Barkin, J. L., Dowling, F., Kocsis, J. H., Leon, A. C., … & Wisniewski, S. R. (2009). Early adversity in chronic depression: clinical correlates and response to pharmacotherapy. Depression and anxiety, 26, 701-710.

McLaughlin, K. A., Conron, K. J., Koenen, K. C., & Gilman, S. E. (2010). Childhood adversity, adult stressful life events, and risk of past year psychiatric disorder: A test of the stress sensitization hypothesis in a population-based sample of adults. Psychological Medicine, 40, 1647–1658.

Moskvina, V., Farmer, A., Swainson, V., O’Leary, J., Gunasinghe, C., Owen, M., … & Korszun, A. (2007). Interrelationship of childhood trauma, neuroticism, and depressive phenotype. Depression and anxiety, 24, 163-168.

Smith, M., Saisan, J., & Segal, J., (2014). Depression symptoms and warning signs; How to recognize depression symptoms and get effective help. Retrieved from

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