Researchers at the Department of Psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, and the Department of Pediatrics of Boston University School of Medicine, have found that childhood adversity is linked to chronic physical and mental disability in adulthood.
Dr. David A. Brent and co-author Dr. Michael Silverstein believe that childhood adversity changes the way the body and mind deal with stress. It is well known that excess stress can cause both mental illness and physical illness. The researchers found that abuse, maltreatment, exposure to domestic violence, parental mental illness, poverty, trauma, and neglect can make a child more susceptible to chronic conditions during adulthood. Many of these chronic conditions are associated with premature death.
Exposure to childhood adversity was linked to adult smoking, obesity, depression, substance abuse attempted suicide, and cardiovascular disease. These conditions can cause premature death.
These changes occur because high stress levels can affect the way genes are expressed.
Does this mean that all abused children are doomed to poor health? No. Changes in environment can reverse the effects on health. If a parent’s post-partum depression is treated, the child will become better able to deal with stress. If an abused toddler is given love and counseling, she will usually begin to overcome the effects of her early childhood.
The authors believe that early intervention is the best way to reduce the economic costs associated with chronic disability. Providing assistance to parents living in poverty may reduce the number of children who grow up to be dependent on Social Security Insurance (SSI) or Social Security Disability (SSDI).
"Shedding Light on the Long Shadow of Childhood Adversity" was published in the May 1, 2013, issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association.