BACKGROUND: Studies in Western countries have repeatedly shown that women with a history of childhood sexual abuse (CSA) are at increased risk for developing major depression (MD). Would this relationship be found in China? METHOD: Three levels of CSA (non-genital, genital, and intercourse) were assessed by self-report in two groups of Han Chinese women: 1970 clinically ascertained with recurrent MD and 2597 matched controls. Diagnostic and other risk factor information was assessed at personal interview. Odds ratios (ORs) were calculated by logistic regression and regression coefficients by linear or Poisson regression. RESULTS: Any form of CSA was significantly associated with recurrent MD [OR 3.26, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.95-5.45]. This association strengthened with increasing CSA severity: non-genital (OR 2.47, 95% CI 1.17-5.23), genital (OR 2.77, 95% CI 1.32-5.83) and intercourse (OR 13.35, 95% CI 1.83-97.42). The association between any form of CSA and MD remained significant after accounting for parental history of depression, childhood emotional neglect (CEN), childhood physical abuse (CPA) and parent-child relationship. Among the depressed women, those with CSA had an earlier age of onset, longer depressive episodes and an increased risk for generalized anxiety disorder (GAD; OR 1.92, 95% CI 1.39-2.66) and dysthymia (OR 2.16, 95% CI 1.52-3.09). CONCLUSIONS: In Chinese women CSA is strongly associated with MD and this association increases with greater severity of CSA. Depressed women with CSA have an earlier age of onset, longer depressive episodes and increased co-morbidity with GAD and dysthymia. Although reporting biases cannot be ruled out, our results are consistent with the hypothesis that, as in Western countries, CSA substantially increases the risk for MD in China.

Original publication




Journal article


Psychol Med

Publication Date





409 - 417


Adult, Age of Onset, Child, Child Abuse, Sexual, China, Comorbidity, Depressive Disorder, Major, Female, Humans, Middle Aged, Recurrence, Risk