The Impact of Trauma on the Onset of Mental Health Symptoms, Aggression, and Criminal Behavior in an Inpatient Psychiatric Sample

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Experiences of trauma and maltreatment are frequent predictors of poor physical and mental health outcomes in adulthood. Existing literature also suggests an impact of developmental adversity on criminality and aggressive behavior, though little research exists describing the effects of cumulative adversity in forensic mental health samples. In the current study of 381 forensic mental health inpatients, rates of trauma, neglect, and parental substance abuse are reported in comparison with community norms. Cumulative adversity and the occurrence of foster care placement are examined via linear and logistic regression analyses in relation to age at first arrest, first psychiatric hospitalization, and onset of aggression, as well as history of suicide attempts and non-suicidal self-injury. Results revealed that experiences of developmental adversity were more common among participants than have been reported in community samples using the ACE survey, and that there were differential effects of gender on the prevalence of traumas experienced. Cumulative adversity scores were significantly associated with all outcomes, though the addition of foster care placement to the model significantly contributed to understanding outcomes, and in some cases, removed the effect of cumulative adversity. Implications and direction for future study are discussed.