Childhood emotional abuse and neglect are the least studied types of childhood maltreatment (McSherry 2007
; Wright 2007
). Both, however, are clearly linked to adult psychopathology (Bifulco et al. 2002
; McSherry 2007
). Mullen et al. (1996)
examined the effects of childhood maltreatment in a community-based sample of women and found that emotional abuse was related to depression and suicidal behavior. Additionally, a study by Bifulco et al. (2002)
demonstrated that emotional abuse adds to the prediction of lifetime major depression above and beyond other forms of childhood maltreatment (e.g., sexual, physical abuse, and neglect). Although childhood neglect has been largely ignored in studies examining reports of maltreatment, its common co-occurrence with maltreatment demonstrates a clear link between neglect and adult psychopathology (McSherry 2007
The impact of deficient social support on an individual’s mental health has also been well documented (Kinard 1996
). Research has shown that the perception
of social support, one’s subjective sense of other’s availability to provide emotional support and aid with tangible needs, can influence how an individual reacts to stressful situations (Hyman et al. 2003
; Maher et al. 2006
; Peirce et al. 2000
). Social support that is perceived as adequate can shape an individual’s cognitive experience of a stressful event and, therefore, can potentially buffer against negative reactions including depression (Charuvastra and Cloitre 2008
; Hyman et al. 2003
). Because much of the trauma that occurs with childhood maltreatment is experienced within the family, an individual’s subjective perception of family support in adulthood may be affected by their memory of abuse or neglect in childhood. The interconnection between perceived family support and the experiences within the family as a child could have an important effect on whether family support can act as a buffer for adult victims of child abuse.
There is limited research available on how perceived social support in adulthood may mediate the impact of stressful childhood events (e.g., childhood abuse or neglect) as a risk factor for depression. Because both the effects of childhood maltreatment and the perception of social support have been shown to impact the risk for adult depression, understanding the relationship among these three variables is important. Thus the goal of the present paper is to provide an exploratory investigation that examines childhood emotional abuse and neglect more closely in relation to perceived social support and depression in adulthood. Specifically, the current study has three primary goals: 1) to evaluate the relative contributions of childhood sexual, physical and emotional abuse as well as childhood emotional neglect to the prediction of adult depression, 2) to gain a richer understanding of the different effects from perception of family support and friend support in the prediction of adult depression, particularly as it relates to childhood maltreatment, and 3) to examine the role of gender in understanding the relationship between these variables.