The purpose of this study was to determine risk and protective factors for adult psychiatric disorders in very low birth weight (VLBW, birth weight <1,501 g) survivors. 79 of 154 (51%) VLBW subjects recruited at birth were assessed in early adulthood (24-27 years). Participants were screened for a psychiatric disorder; those elevated were invited to attend a structured clinical interview to determine a clinical diagnosis. Longitudinal variables measured from birth and at ages 2, 5, 14 and 18 years were included in analyses. Perinatal, developmental and social environmental risk factors failed to predict psychiatric disorder in adulthood in this cohort of VLBW survivors. Instead, low self-esteem at age 18 (odds ratio [OR] = 1.05, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 1, 1.11, p = 0.05) and the adult social environment (high rates of negative life event stress at the time of assessment: OR = 1.39, CI = 1.10, 1.76, p = 0.02), contributed significantly to adult psychiatric outcomes.