Adverse childhood experiences, adult depression, and suicidal ideation in rural Uganda: A cross-sectional, population-based study.

Journal Article (Journal Article)


Depression is recognized globally as a leading cause of disability. Early-life adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) have been shown to have robust associations with poor mental health during adulthood. These effects may be cumulative, whereby a greater number of ACEs are progressively associated with worse outcomes. This study aimed to estimate the associations between ACEs and adult depression and suicidal ideation in a cross-sectional, population-based study of adults in Uganda.

Methods and findings

Between 2016 and 2018, research assistants visited the homes of 1,626 adult residents of Nyakabare Parish, a rural area in southwestern Uganda. ACEs were assessed using a modified version of the Adverse Childhood Experiences-International Questionnaire, and depression symptom severity and suicidal ideation were assessed using the Hopkins Symptom Checklist for Depression (HSCL-D). We applied a validated algorithm to determine major depressive disorder diagnoses. Overall, 1,458 participants (90%) had experienced at least one ACE, 159 participants (10%) met criteria for major depressive disorder, and 28 participants (1.7%) reported suicidal ideation. We fitted regression models to estimate the associations between cumulative number of ACEs and depression symptom severity (linear regression model) and major depressive disorder and suicidal ideation (Poisson regression models). In multivariable regression models adjusted for age, sex, primary school completion, marital status, self-reported HIV status, and household asset wealth, the cumulative number of ACEs was associated with greater depression symptom severity (b = 0.050; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.039-0.061, p < 0.001) and increased risk for major depressive disorder (adjusted relative risk [ARR] = 1.190; 95% CI, 1.109-1.276; p < 0.001) and suicidal ideation (ARR = 1.146; 95% CI, 1.001-1.311; p = 0.048). We assessed the robustness of our findings by probing for nonlinearities and conducting analyses stratified by age. The limitations of the study include the reliance on retrospective self-report as well as the focus on ACEs that occurred within the household.


In this whole-population, cross-sectional study of adults in rural Uganda, the cumulative number of ACEs had statistically significant associations with depression symptom severity, major depressive disorder, and suicidal ideation. These findings highlight the importance of developing and implementing policies and programs that safeguard children, promote mental health, and prevent trajectories toward psychosocial disability.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Satinsky, EN; Kakuhikire, B; Baguma, C; Rasmussen, JD; Ashaba, S; Cooper-Vince, CE; Perkins, JM; Kiconco, A; Namara, EB; Bangsberg, DR; Tsai, AC

Published Date

  • May 1, 2021

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 18 / 5

Start / End Page

  • e1003642 -

PubMed ID

  • 33979329

Pubmed Central ID

  • PMC8153443

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1549-1676

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 1549-1277

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1371/journal.pmed.1003642


  • eng