Childhood in adversity increases risk of mental health disorder

The findings highlight the need to pay attention to the environment in which a child grows.

New York: Kids who grow up in poverty and face adverse experiences are at a greater risk of suffering from mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety, warn researchers.

Low socioeconomic status and the experience of traumatic stressful events are also linked to accelerated puberty and brain maturation, abnormal brain development, and greater mental health disorders, said the study published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

"The findings underscore the need to pay attention to the environment in which the child grows. Poverty and trauma have strong associations with behaviour and brain development, and the effects are much more pervasive than previously believed," said study lead author Raquel E. Gur, Professor at the University of Pennsylvania in the US.

For the study, the researchers analysed data of over 9,000 participants aged 8 to 21 years and found specific associations of low socioeconomic status and traumatic stressful events with psychiatric symptoms, cognitive performance, and several brain structure abnormalities.

The findings revealed that poverty was associated with a small elevation in the severity of psychiatric symptoms, including mood/anxiety, phobias, externalising behaviour and psychosis, as compared to individuals who did not experience poverty.

The magnitude of the effects of traumatic stressful events on psychiatric symptom severity was unexpectedly large.

The research found that even a single traumatic event was associated with a moderate increase in severity for all psychiatric symptoms analysed, and two or more events showed large effect sizes, especially in mood/anxiety and in psychosis. Additionally, these effects were larger in females than in males.

Both poverty and traumatic stressful events were associated with abnormalities across measures of brain anatomy, physiology, and connectivity.

They also found evidence that adversity is associated with earlier onset of puberty. Both poverty and experiencing traumatic stressful events are associated with the child physically maturing at an earlier age, said the study.

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