Childhood trauma triples the risk of serious mental illness in adulthood

Summary: Childhood trauma significantly increases the risk of being diagnosed with a mental health disorder later in life. For emotionally abused children, the most common disorder reported was anxiety. Trauma also increased the risk of psychosis, OCD and bipolar disorder. Significantly, those who experienced childhood trauma were 15 times more likely to be diagnosed with borderline personality disorder later in life.

Source: MIGI

A study by researchers at the Hospital del Mar Institute of Medical Research links childhood psychological trauma to an increased risk of developing some sort of mental disorder years later.

Experiencing psychological trauma in childhood greatly increases the risk of developing a mental disorder in adulthood. Specifically, up to three times, according to a recent study by researchers at the Hospital del Mar Institute for Medical Research, published in the journal European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences.

The study analyzes the fourteen reviews and meta-analyses published to date in specialized journals on this issue, and is the first to take into account all existing mental disorders.

In total, the studies analyzed include more than 93,000 cases, revealing a direct link between suffering psychological trauma in pediatric age and the risk of developing mental pathology later in life.

“This is the strongest evidence to date that psychological trauma is really a risk factor for later suffering from a mental disorder,” says study lead author Dr Benedikt Amann, a researcher at the IMIM Hospital Mental Health Research Group. del Mar and CIBER Mental Health (CIBERSAM).

The most common childhood traumas are emotional, physical and sexual abuse, as well as emotional or physical neglect and bullying, although there are many others.

Experiencing any of these situations damages the brain, leading to physical and psychological consequences in the form of various disorders. In the case of emotional abuse, the most frequent trauma is associated with the most common disorder in the population, that of anxiety.

But there is also a relationship between childhood trauma and other pathologies, such as psychosis, which is linked to all trauma, obsessive-compulsive disorder or bipolar disorder.

The risk of suffering from a borderline personality disorder increases up to fifteen times in case of having experienced a trauma in childhood.

It shows a sad little boy
Experiencing psychological trauma in childhood greatly increases the risk of developing a mental disorder in adulthood. Image is in public domain

Trauma in adulthood is also associated with a fourfold increase in the risk of a later mental disorder. The researchers point out, however, that there is less evidence for this type of pathology.

Investigate the victim’s story

In view of these results, Bridget Hogg, researcher at IMIM-Hospital del Mar, psychologist and first author of the study, believes that patients need an approach that not only considers physical factors, but also of their history.

In this sense, “it is necessary to accompany the patient in his life story, to take stock of what happened to him. Currently, we wonder about what is wrong, but not about what happened in their life, because that requires opening up potentially painful subjects, and we avoid it.

The study also highlights the fact that other traumas such as disasters, violent deaths or family violence can affect people, generating structural and functional changes in the brain that open the door to future mental disorders.

In addition, for people with this type of pathology who have suffered previous trauma, the course of the disease is worse. For these reasons, Dr. Amann calls for action.

“On the one hand, we need to deal with psychological trauma in our patients, but we also need to act in the political and social spheres and invest more in prevention. For example, by educating families and implementing programs to prevent bullying, which is a very important risk factor in terms of suffering from a mental disorder, both for those who experience it and for those who commit it” , he said.

About this neurodevelopment and mental health research news

Author: Press office
Source: MIGI
Contact: Press office – IMIM
Image: Image is in public domain

Original research: Access closed.
“Psychological trauma as a transdiagnostic risk factor for mental disorder: an umbrella meta-analysis” by Bridget Hogg et al. European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences

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Psychological trauma as a transdiagnostic risk factor for mental disorders: an umbrella meta-analysis

This general review is the first to systematically examine psychological trauma as a transdiagnostic risk factor in all psychiatric conditions. We searched the Pubmed, Scopus and PsycNET databases from inception to 01/05/2021 for systematic reviews/meta-analyses assessing the association between psychological trauma and at least one diagnosed mental disorder.

We recalculated the odds ratio (OR) and then classified the association as convincing, highly suggestive, suggestive, or weak, based on the number of cases and controls with and without psychological trauma, random effects p value, 95% confidence interval of the largest study, heterogeneity between studies, 95% prediction interval, effect of small studies, and excessive significance bias.

Additional outcomes were the association between specific trauma types and specific mental disorders, and a sensitivity analysis for childhood trauma. Transdiagnosticity was assessed using the TRANSD criteria.

The exam was pre-registered in Prospero CRD42020157308 and followed PRISMA/MOOSE guidelines.

Fourteen reviews met the inclusion criteria, comprising 16,277 cases and 77,586 controls. Psychological trauma met TRANSD criteria as a transdiagnostic factor across different diagnostic criteria and spectra.

There was highly suggestive evidence for an association between psychological trauma at any time and any mental disorder (OR = 2.92) and between childhood trauma and any mental disorder (OR = 2.90).

With respect to specific types of trauma, compelling evidence linked physical abuse (OR = 2.36) and highly suggestive evidence linked sexual abuse (OR = 3.47) to a range of mental disorders, and convincing evidence linked emotional abuse to anxiety disorders (OR = 3.05); there were no data on psychological abuse associated with other disorders.

These findings underscore the importance of preventing early traumatic events and providing trauma-informed care in early intervention and psychiatric services.

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