Positive Childhood Experiences Protect Against Depression And Anxiety

Having positive childhood experiences is associated with less depression and anxiety later in life. Growing up with good experiences is also linked to better satisfaction with life and better mental health.

People with many negative childhood experiences, on the other hand, will experience more symptoms of depression and anxiety, and be less satisfied with life.

This is shown by a study published in Child Abuse & Neglect1

Great influence

8,800 students were included in the study, which was carried out by researchers at Simon Fraser University in Canada.

Data was collected from January to March 2022. This was during the fifth wave of the pandemic, and many people were infected by COVID-19.

The students in the study were asked to note the number of positive and negative experiences (up to the age of 18), and to what extent they have had symptoms of depression and anxiety. They were also asked to rate their mental well-being and the extent to which they were satisfied with life.

The results show that adults who had at least four negative experiences in childhood were four times more likely to experience depression and low satisfaction than people without negative childhood experiences. They were three times more likely to experience anxiety and suicide attempts were 30 times more likely.

In the news release from Simon Fraser University 2, the researchers point out that positive childhood experiences were associated with better mental health and well-being even for young people who experienced adverse childhood experiences.

Support and good relationships

By positive childhood experiences, the researchers mean that the child receives support from friends, feels that the family shows support when things are difficult, feels a sense of belonging in society, and is safe and protected by an adult in the home.

Negative childhood experiences can be verbal, physical, and sexual abuse, physical and emotional neglect, domestic violence, carers having mental disorders, or experiencing drug use and divorce. At the same time, other negative experiences can be poor finances, homelessness, and insecurity at school.

One of the authors behind the study, Hasina Samji, says in the news release that we know we can exercise and eat healthy to achieve better physical health. This is also the case with mental health: you can prevent mental illness, even if there is of course a genetic component – as is also the case with physical illness.

Therefore, she believes that the aid system must be at the forefront to a far greater extent and prevent and provide support where it is known to be needed.

Samji says that mental illness is not randomly distributed in the population, but follows a socio-economic pattern. The researchers behind the study recommend that changes be made at the system level so that families and institutions receive support to increase positive childhood experiences and reduce negative ones.

  1. Samji H, Long D, et.al. Positive childhood experiences serve as protective factors for mental health in pandemic-era youth with adverse childhood experiences. Child Abuse & Neglect 2024. www.sciencedirect.com 
  2. Jeff Hodson, Positive childhood experiences can boost mental health and reduce depression and anxiety in teens, Simon Fraser University www.sfu.ca