The impact of adverse childhood experiences and recent life events on anxiety and quality of life in university students

Emma Davies, John Read, M Shevlin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) have been repeatedly associated with a wide range of physical and mental health issues. Research has indicated high levels of anxiety and depression among university students, and a few studies have documented the relationship between ACEs and anxiety in the university student population. This study surveyed first year students at a university located in the most ethnically diverse district in England, with the second highest poverty rate. Eight hundred and fifty-eight responded; a response rate of 12%. The survey included questions about adverse childhood events, recent life stressors, current deprivation, quality of life, positive physical health and positive mental health, and used the Generalized Anxiety Disorder Scale, a standardised measure. Thirty-seven percent of the responding students met the diagnosis for generalised anxiety disorder. In a multivariate multiple regression model, life stressors and childhood adversities were significantly associated with higher levels of anxiety and lower levels of physical and mental health. Only childhood adversities significantly predicted lower levels of quality of life. The findings highlight the importance of considering adverse childhood experiences in enhancing the wellbeing of the student population. Given the demographics of the student population at the University of East London, the high rates of ACEs and anxiety are likely to partially reflect poverty and racism. The implications of the findings for trauma-informed policies and practices in universities are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
JournalHigher Education
Early online date1 Dec 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 1 Dec 2021


  • Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs)
  • University students
  • Poverty
  • Racism
  • Anxiety
  • Quality of life


Dive into the research topics of 'The impact of adverse childhood experiences and recent life events on anxiety and quality of life in university students'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this