But not all children who experience early life stress go on to develop mental illness. It seems how you cope with stressful experiences is not only influenced by your prior experiences, but also your genes, coping responses and brain regulation. Chemicals in the brain such as cortisol and oxytocin are important for stress and emotional regulation.
How Childhood Trauma Changes Our Hormones, And Thus Our Mental Health, Into Adulthood
November 27, 2017
Exposure to traumatic experiences in childhood can have a negative impact on the development of the brain when it’s most vulnerable. Cases of childhood maltreatment are more common than reported; conservative estimates show over 45,000 Australian children were exposed to maltreatment in 2015 and 2016. Adversity in childhood can include experiences such as emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, neglect, and the sudden loss of a parent or caregiver.
Early life adversity is a major risk factor for the development of psychological and behavioural problems later in life. Higher rates of depression, suicidality, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, and aggressive behaviour have been reported in adults who experienced childhood maltreatment.
Traumatic childhood events also contribute to increased drug use and dependence. Initiation of drug-taking behaviour begins at a much younger age in those who’ve experienced childhood trauma. Exposure to stressful events in childhood can increase the impact of stressful events throughout life. Add divorce or unemployment to childhood trauma and someone can be more likely to develop psychological disorders or addiction.
EYC Editor’s addition: there’s also recent, less well-known evidence that extreme emotional trauma and neglect can result in greatly depressed brain development, reducing brain size and altering its structure and creating atrophy in certain areas.
Take a look at the image of two brains above. Although they belong to children of the same age, you’ll notice that the one on the left is much bigger and has fewer blurred structures than the one on the right.