Coping with adversity

A Saudi study finds that adverse childhood experiences affect men and women in different ways.



Adverse childhood experiences are stressful or traumatic events that occur in early life, such as emotional neglect, domestic violence, sexual abuse, parental divorce and the death of a loved-one.

They are known to have life-long consequences. Past studies have shown that adverse childhood experiences disrupt brain development, cause behavioural changes and increase the risk of physical or mental disorders. KAIMRC’s Maha Almuneef and co-workers examined how adverse childhood experiences affect Saudis. They found that men with four or more adverse childhood experiences are more likely to use drugs and drink alcohol, while women are more likely to develop depression, anxiety and mental disorders. T

he researchers invited 10,156 people — of which 52% were men and 48% were women — from all regions of Saudi Arabia to participate in an interview or complete a questionnaire that asks them a series of multiple-choice questions regarding their physical and mental health, living habits and adverse childhood experiences.

Eighty per cent of participants had encountered one or more adverse childhood experiences before the age of 18, 29% of whom had encountered four or more. The five most common adverse childhood experiences for men were ROBIN BECKHAM / BEEPSTOCK / ALAMY STOCK PHOTOdomestic violence, lack of protection/ supervision, peer violence, collective violence and parental divorce. For women, they were domestic violence, lack of protection/supervision, parental divorce, emotional abuse and collective violence.

The researchers found significant differences in how each gender coped with ACEs. Men with four or more adverse childhood experiences were more likely to use drugs and drink alcohol, whereas women were more likely to develop depression, anxiety and mental disorders. The results suggest that governments should implement gender-specific preventive strategies to address certain problems resulting from adverse childhood experiences. The findings are timely given that Saudi Arabia is seeing a growing number of reported cases of people with adverse childhood experiences similar to other countries.


  1.  | Almuneef, M., ElChoueiry, N., Saleheen, H. N. & Al-Eissa, M. Gender-based disparities in the impact of adverse childhood experiences on adult health: Findings from a national study in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. International Journal for Equity in Health 16, 90 (2017). article

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