A study of 300 women has found that one in five have suffered from depression and one in three were abused as a child.

The Social Research Unit at Royal Holloway College, which is funded by the Medical Research Council, has been gathering information for 15 years on the link between childhood experiences and the long-term risk of depression.

Its latest findings are based on a three-year study in Islington of women chosen from GP registers. Islington was chosen because the researchers considered it was a typical inner-city borough with a mixed social base.

Dr Antonia Bifulco, a research fellow, said: 'Of the total women interviewed almost a third had suffered either neglect or physical or sexual abuse.

We were surprised at the level of abuse reported because the women were certainly not selected for being 'high risk'.'

Such experiences doubled the chances of depression developing in adult life, said Dr Bifulco.

'The thresholds were set deliberately high. We classed physical abuse as being hit repeatedly with an implement causing bruises, cuts or worse injury.

'As many as half of the group who had suffered one of these types of abuse as a child had had a depressive episode during the three year study with the rate being highest for those who had been sexually abused.'

The survey also concluded that children of single parents were no more likely to be abused than those living with their natural parents, but neglect and abuse were common for youngsters growing up with a natural and step-parent.