When public health officials get wind of an outbreak of Hepatitis or Influenza, they spring into action with public awareness campaigns, monitoring and outreach. But should they be acting with equal urgency when it comes to childhood trauma?
A recent article published by Erin Blakemore citing research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests the answer should be yes. It shows how the effects of childhood trauma persist and are linked to mental illness and addiction in adulthood. And, researchers say, it suggests that it might be more effective to approach trauma as a public health crisis than to limit treatment to individuals.
The study drew on the experiences of participants from the Great Smoky Mountain Study, which followed 1,420 children from mostly rural parts of Western North Carolina, over a period of 22 years. They were interviewed annually during their childhood, then four additional times during adulthood.
This study has something other studies don’t, says William Copeland, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Vermont who led the research. Instead of relying on recalled reports of childhood trauma, the researchers analyzed data collected while the participants were kids and their experiences were fresh. And researchers applied rigorous statistical analysis to rule out confounding factors.
Even when the team accounted for other adversities aside from trauma, like low income and family hardships, and adult traumas, the associations between childhood trauma and adult hardships remained clear. The associations remained clear.
The study is “probably the most rigorous test we have to date of the hypothesis that early childhood trauma has these strong, independent effects on adult outcomes,” he says.
For Copeland, the wide-ranging impacts of trauma call for broad-based policy solution in addition to individual interventions. “It has to be a discussion we have on a public health policy level,” he says.
Nearly 31 per cent of the children told researchers they had experienced one traumatic event, like a life-threatening injury, sexual or physical abuse, or witnessing or hearing about a loved one’s traumatic experience. And 22.5 per cent of participants had experienced two traumas, while 14.8 per cent experienced three or more.
Participants with trauma histories were 1.5 times as likely to have psychiatric problems and experience family instability and dysfunction than those without, and 1.4 times as likely to be bullied. They were also 1.3 times more likely to be poor than participants who didn’t experience trauma.
When these children grew up, psychiatric problems and other issues persisted. Even after researches adjusted for factors like bias, race, and sex, the impact of those childhood psychiatric problems and hardships, the associations remained. Participants who experienced childhood trauma were 1.3 times more likely to develop psychiatric disorders than adults than those who did not experience trauma, and 1.2 times more likely to develop depression or substance abuse disorder.
Participants with histories of trauma were also more likely to experience health problems, participate in risky behavior, struggle financially, and have violent relationships or problems making friends. And the more childhood trauma a person experienced, the more likely they were to have those problems in adulthood.
Copeland acknowledges the study’s limitations – it included mostly white participants in rural settings, and a disproportionately high number of Native American Participants compared to the rest of the United States due to the area’s high concentration of members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. But, the study is nonetheless important, says Kathryn Magruder, an epidemiologist and professor of psychiatry at the Medical University of South Carolina.
“I think it should put to rest any kind of speculation about early childhood trauma and later life difficulties,” she says.
Though the link has been shown in earlier research, Magruder says, this new study can help direct future research and policy. “Why are we revisiting it? Because it is time to think about prevention,” she says. Trauma is a public health problem, she adds and should be met with a public health approach.
Psychologist Marc Gelkopf agrees. In an editorial published along with the study, he writes: “If the ills of our societies, including trauma, are to be tackled seriously, then injustice must be held accountable.”
Addiction and mental health challenges can impact daily life and brain functioning severely. If unresolved, this lack of brain re-optimization can prevent lasting recovery from taking hold. Fully Integrated behavioral health and substance abuse treatment include extensive trauma therapies such as brainspotting, EMDR, LENS Neurofeedback, and hypnotherapy.
At Kiasi Retreats, we recognize this crucial reality and ensure that our individualized treatment program for each client is informed by an initial psychiatric evaluation and is continually modified by very regular psychiatric follow-ups. We also ensure that clients have access to a range of cutting-edge trauma and somatic brain optimization therapies to ensure that when appropriate, remote parts of the brain can be reached to promote targeted healing, straight from the source.