Early Childhood Adversity and Chronic Illness: An Examination of a High-Risk Forensic Inpatient Population

Document Type


Publication Date



Individuals exposed to abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction during childhood are at increased risk of developing chronic illnesses including heart disease, cancer, and chronic emphysema. A relationship between early childhood adversity and health risk factors contributing to chronic disease such as smoking, obesity, and sedentary lifestyle has also been established in prior literature. Chronic conditions carry many negative consequences at both societal and individual levels and have been associated with significant financial cost, a decline in quality of life, and functional impairment. According to research, more than half of an average community sample has experienced at least one type of adverse childhood experience, including psychological, physical, or sexual abuse or substance abuse, mental illness, domestic violence, or criminal behavior within the household, with approximately 25% experiencing two or more. However, there is evidence that higher than usual levels of trauma exist in forensic inpatient samples, which may increase the odds of chronic disease development in this population. Despite this evidence, little research exists examining the prevalence of adverse childhood experiences in forensic mental health clients, as well as the relationship between trauma and chronic health conditions and risky health behaviors in this population. Archival data were collected from a forensic psychiatric facility in the Midwestern US. Inclusion criteria included admission since 2005, residence for at least one year, and discharge prior to data collection. A list of clients (N=182) meeting inclusion criteria was randomly generated by the facility’s research coordinator. Medical, psychiatric, social services, and annual review reports as well as discharge summaries were coded by three trained research assistants. The sample was predominantly male (N=147; 80.8%) and Caucasian (N=101; 55.5%). The average admission age was 32.5 years (SD=11.6 years) and average discharge age was 40.5 years (SD=12.7). Reasons for initial admission include transfers from lower-security facilities for aggressive behavior, lack of competency to stand trial, direct admission from the state department of corrections, suicidality or self-harm behavior, and pretrial evaluation. All participants were civilly committed to the facility at the time of discharge. In this study, frequencies and descriptive statistics will illustrate the prevalence of adverse childhood experiences broadly and categorically within a forensic inpatient facility. Logistic regression will also be used to examine the relationship between adverse childhood experience and later chronic disease diagnosis. A hierarchical regression will also be used to evaluate to what extent risky health behaviors account for relationships between chronic diseases and adverse childhood exposures. Results may explain how trauma exposure may increase the likelihood of chronic illness among forensic mental health patients.


Johnson City, TN

This document is currently not available here.