Objectives: We examine the associations between childhood mistreatment (emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and emotional neglect) and older adults’ changes in depressive symptoms from before to during the COVID-19 pandemic (September 2018–June 2020).
Methods: Using a community-based sample of older adults in North Florida (N = 581), we used ordinary least-squares regression to estimate associations between childhood mistreatments and depressive symptoms in June 2020, controlling for baseline symptoms and demographic characteristics. Additional models tested whether emotion regulation and social support attenuated associations between childhood mistreatments and depressive symptoms.
Results: Older adults exposed to emotional neglect in childhood saw a greater increase in depressive symptoms than those who did not experience childhood mistreatment. Those reporting childhood physical abuse had higher baseline depressive symptoms, but they did not increase during the pandemic. These associations remained stable after controlling for emotion regulation and social support, coping resources thought to contribute to linkages between childhood mistreatment and psychological health in adulthood.
Conclusion: Childhood mistreatment might inform the psychological consequences of major stressors in later life. Thus, early life interventions for children experiencing mistreatment could be especially important for long-term psychological health outcomes and responses to major stressful events. Identifying older people with histories of childhood mistreatment could also help clinicians gauge patients’ risk of psychological decline during times such as the COVID-19 pandemic and tailor psychological health interventions.