A prospective study of the impact of child maltreatment and friend support on psychological distress trajectory: From adolescence to emerging adulthood
Background: Transition into adulthood is a critical developmental period that may be influenced by adverse life events as well as by protective factors. This study aimed at investigating the effect of different forms of child maltreatment experienced prior to age 14 (i.e., sexual abuse, physical abuse and exposure to intimate partner violence), and of friend support at age 14 on the psychological distress trajectory from age 14 to 24. Methods: Participants were 605 adolescents from the general population involved in a 10-year longitudinal study. Psychological distress was evaluated at ages 14, 16, 18 and 24. Child maltreatment prior to 14 years was retrospectively assessed at 14 and 24 years while perception of support from friends was evaluated at age 14. Results: Multilevel growth modeling indicated that psychological distress followed a significant decreasing curvilinear trajectory, with participants reporting fewer distressing psychological symptoms after 18 years. All three forms of child maltreatment, as well as their cumulative effect, predicted more psychological distress over 10 years above and beyond the protective effect of support from friends. Higher support from friends at age 14 was related to lower distress at baseline andover 10 years, beyond the effect of child maltreatment. Limitations: Self-report nature of all measures, attrition, and measures of child maltreatment forms. Conclusions: Psychological distress decreased during the transition from adolescence to emerging adulthood. Results also revealed the detrimental impact of child maltreatment and the promotive role of friend support, which underscore the importance of early intervention.