Scientists explore link between early-life adversities and mental health

Scientists explore link between early-life adversities and mental health

Childhood is the happiest period of one’s life. It is the time when fun is at its peak with no burden of responsibilities. But what happens when a child grows in a stressful environment which compels him or her to lose self-worth and become a despondent? A recent study by the University of California, San Francisco’s (UCSF) Department of Psychiatry on older homeless adults suggested that adverse childhood experiences have a long-term negative impact on the mental health of people.

When a child is exposed to adversities, such as neglect, parental death or abuse, he or she becomes more vulnerable to future violence victimization or perpetration, said the study. It focused on the most overlooked population and revealed that half of all single homeless adults were over the age of 50, suggesting that the younger half of the baby boomer population was at an increased risk of becoming homeless. The study was published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry in August 2016.

Rate of childhood physical abuse higher in older homeless population

The researchers examined 350 homeless individuals aged above 50 years, who were part of a research project called the Health Outcomes of People Experiencing Homelessness in Older Middle Age Study (HOPE HOME), carried out by the UCSF since 2013.

The researchers questioned each participant about their negative childhood experiences, which were put under seven categories – physical neglect, verbal abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, parental death, parental incarceration, and placement in the child welfare system. The researchers then compared the total number of disastrous experiences of each participant with their current mental state, including history of suicide attempts, psychiatric hospitalizations or depressive symptoms.

On comparing the three mental health outcomes with the number of traumatic experiences during childhood, the scientists found that the participants who experienced one to four or more adversities had two to six times higher risk of developing moderate-to-severe depressive symptoms.

Those who had encountered four or more traumatic episodes had seven times higher risk of being hospitalized for psychiatric problems. But the link between the risk for suicide attempts and the number of childhood adversities witnessed the sharpest elevation, with 45 times higher risk of attempting suicide in the participants with four or more adversities.

It was found that the rate of childhood physical abuse was 33 percent in the older homeless population, compared with just 15 percent in the non-homeless population. But the largest gap between the general population and the study participants was seen in case of parental death-21 percent of the participants experienced parental death as compared to just 0.3 percent of those from general public.

“Even in a population with high prevalence of poor mental health outcomes, you could differentiate the mental health problems at this late age by the number of childhood adversities,” said senior author Margot Kushel, M.D., professor of medicine at the UCSF.

Need for early screening of childhood adversities

Painful experiences during the childhood can cause severe mental health issues later, hence, the need of the hour is to screen vulnerable individuals for early life adversities. The scientists believed that the at-risk population, usually, has access to primary care, and hence, can be screened for such adversities at an early stage.

But they denied that bad parenting is responsible for early-life adversities and agreed with the fact that any kind of trauma is largely driven by issues existing in a particular society. This means that childhood adversity is a public health problem as its repercussions are devastating and persist for a long period of time.

Leading a healthy life

More than the increasing pervasiveness of mental disorders, it is the lack of accessibility to treatment that is becoming a major concern. Thus, it is important to start the treatment as soon as it is diagnosed. If you or your loved one is suffering from any mental health issue, consult the Sovereign Mental Health Services for the best treatment. Call us at our 24/7 helpline number 866-954-0529 or chat online to understand all about mental health programs and to know about our various mental health centers.

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