Children’s mental health benefits from growing up in a loving, safe, and secure home. However, exposure to violence and abuse can worsen children’s mental health and increase the risk for issues like stress and depression (Fisher, 2017). This study breaks down the evolution of the brain from infancy through adolescence. The subsequent sections of the study will focus on the effects of context and experience on youngsters, as well as adult trauma symptoms and their links to development. Furthermore, this paper will discuss how the environment harms children’s mental health, how bullying impacts psychological well-being, and what mental health treatments would help treat patients. A person’s mental health can be influenced by their social setting or surroundings, which can then shape their outlook and actions as an adult.
Brain and Social Development
The study of adult depression should consider the developmental context of the individual’s formative years. The human brain can sense, perceive, process, store, and act upon information from both the internal and exterior world (Van der Kolk, 2014). Neurons are the brain’s fundamental elements, the building blocks that, through network formation, define the developmentally appropriate control and structure of all brain systems and processes. Sequences and meanings derived from past occurrences form the basis for these functions, shaping the course of future action. The medical, judicial, and child welfare communities recognize the significance of neural routes and how traumatic events can significantly disrupt them.
Infancy and formative years are crucial for brain development because they provide the groundwork for later growth. The development of neural networks is exceptionally rapid and depends on experience repetition. The brain learns how to react and what to anticipate based on these occurrences. If the events are painful, specific brain networks become accustomed to responding to distress, while others, crucial to adaptive behavior, are stunted in their growth. Stress in infancy has been linked to problems with attachment, emotional control, and cognitive development. Inadequate or excessive development of some pathways might lead to difficulties in later phases. It is worth keeping in mind that a child’s brain is already 80% complete by age 3 and 90% complete by age 5 (Rothschild, 2017). Nonetheless, persistent traumatic events can be so devastating that interventions utilize this window to look for pathway changes.
The brain keeps developing, albeit at a slower rate, in school-aged children and teenagers. To maximize efficiency, unused neural pathways are snipped off or cut down, and the remaining routes are covered for protection and stability. Emotional regulation, impulse control, and attention span are just a few of the complicated skills children learn at this age (Fisher, 2017). The effects of stress on one’s social life, academic performance, and ability to learn are profound. Early childhood trauma causes internal behaviors like self-blame, melancholy, and withdrawal, while school-aged traumatic experiences cause exterior behaviors like acting out.
The adolescent brain goes through a period of rapid development, including the shortening of underused neural connections. Reasoning, focus, attention, and higher-order thought are all aided by this process, making it crucial (Van der Kolk, 2014). Adolescent suffering disrupts the maturation and fortification of brain regions and systems critical to the brain’s ability to interact with the rest of the body. A person’s risk-taking, addictions, criminal behavior, and drug and alcohol abuse all increase as a result.
Trauma, toxic stress, and other forms of childhood abuse can devastate a developing brain and body. When exposed to extreme stress, the system responds in four distinct ways. Adrenaline and cortisol, known as ‘stress hormones’, cause a shift in a child’s hormonal balance. They divert blood supply to the body’s largest muscle groups and bypass the brain’s reasoning center, activating the survival phase in response to a perceived threat (Rothschild, 2017). When a child’s hormone levels fluctuate during brain development, it can have far-reaching consequences for their mental and physical well-being. Similar to how elevated hormone levels can weaken the cardiovascular and nervous systems, high sugar levels can augment the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Alterations to the immune and inflammatory response systems can increase the likelihood of an adult developing depressive disorder, obesity, and lupus. A person’s hormone levels, the way their body and brain react to events, and their risk of developing conditions like depression and obesity are all affected by traumatic experiences.
The immune system is the body’s defense against pathogens, inflammatory and allergic reactions. Thymus atrophy, telomere shortening, lymph node, spleen shrinkage, and an abundance of stress hormones are all consequences of chronic stress, suppressing immunity, and promoting inflammation (Van der Kolk, 2014). Depression, viral infections, heart disease, anxiousness, asthma, and allergic reactions are all exacerbated by this. The above-mentioned neurological alterations in the brain are caused by childhood trauma. Prolonged stress activation alters neuronal connections, shrinking the part of the brain responsible for reasoning and learning and, by extension, one’s mental capacity. Epigenetics is the study of how the experiences and environment of a child can alter the expression of their genes; trauma can result in epigenetic modifications. If a person is born with the ability to develop self-assurance and height but then suffers maltreatment and malnutrition as a child, that person will grow up to be timid and short. Mental health, immunological function, obesity, cardiovascular disease, substance abuse, and metabolic disease are all impacted by epigenetic changes that stress can trigger.
Effects of Childhood Trauma on Adulthood
When children start school, they begin showing symptoms of trauma they experienced as young children. Negative effects on one’s ability to think and do well in school have been linked to childhood trauma. Such children have low grades and multiple sub-syndromal symptoms, which warrant investigating their poor concentration and mental acuity. Children maltreated before kindergarten have increased behavioral and psychological issues in high school, including worse grades, aggression, and higher absenteeism (Van Assche et al., 2020). Students who experienced trauma as children are more likely to struggle academically and behaviorally as adults than their non-traumatized peers in the same grade. Exposure to spousal violence, parental separation, and closeness to an inmate are more common traumatic situations among children of low socioeconomic status. Early trauma leads to abnormal brain development, which in turn causes cognitive, interpersonal, psychological, and behavioral issues.
One long-term result of failing in school is a general deterioration in both physical and mental wellness. Participants’ present psychological and physiological health, as well as their Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) test scores, is considered. The ACEs score provides a backward-looking glance at the correlation between unpleasant experiences and adult psychological health. Strong associations are found between current medical conditions and ACE test scores in a high number of participants. Increases in binge drinking, weight gain, and the likelihood of smoking are all associated with greater ACE scores and more trauma exposure. Childhood trauma is a root cause of psychopathology; the trauma’s severity correlates with an individual’s increased risk of displaying symptoms of a mental condition (Van Assche et al., 2020). Women who have been abused are more likely than men who have been abused to have mental health problems like depression and trauma because of their traumatic childhood experiences. The system’s approach to stress management is thought to be flawed, leaving the body with no opportunity to learn effective coping mechanisms.
Every person’s way of life is shaped by their unique educational and mental health experiences. Mistreatment can have far-reaching effects on a child’s development if exposed to it repeatedly throughout their life. As measured by ACE ratings, poor academic performance, and behavioral problems in school lay the groundwork for a lifetime of economic hardship. The ACE scores show a correlation between poverty and problems in childhood (Rothschild, 2017). Those who endured traumatic childhoods are statistically more likely to live in low-income communities and earn fewer wages because of their low levels of schooling. Children with a parent in prison, a person in foster care, or divorced parents are less likely to get married or stay in a marriage. In addition, there is a robust correlation between domestic violence between parents and child maltreatment. In a vicious cycle, abused children become adults who do little to stop the violence of their spouse, have children, and then see their children suffer the same fate.
An act of violence, neglect, or other threatening experience can devastate a child. ACEs create traumatizing experiences that can occur from various circumstances. Physical and sexual abuse both cause emotional discomfort in young victims. Accidents on the road, natural disasters (like a hurricane), the death of a loved one, and significant medical emergencies are just some of the one-off occurrences that can leave a lasting psychological imprint on youngsters. Trauma in childhood is not limited to experiences when the child is actively involved (Van Assche et al., 2020). The influence of violent media or growing up with a parent who uses drugs could contribute to these problems. Reaching one’s full potential and generally feeling healthy depends on the brain developing normally. Cognitive dysfunction may result in children and young people who have experienced injury or abuse and related trauma. Abuse and exploitation have long-term outcomes on a child’s mental, expressive, and psychological functioning, affecting attachment and social standing as an adult.
Trauma in children is a major social issue; problems with mental health are surprisingly widespread among young people. Vulnerability to one or more traumatic events as a child is a significant predictor of later mental health issues in young adults. They include abuse, neglect, family dysfunction, and more obviously traumatic things like seeing death, experiencing sexual or physical assault, or surviving a natural disaster. Depression, nervousness, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance use, and suicidality are some mental health issues that traumatic experiences in childhood can exacerbate (John et al., 2019). The effects on a person’s psychological and emotional wellness from such exposure might be long-lasting. Children’s physical, psychological, and emotional health can be negatively impacted by witnessing or experiencing violence, abuse, or neglect at a young age. It has also been related to illnesses such as heart failure, cancer, and mental issues that manifest later in life. Despite the well-documented association between childhood trauma and negative health consequences, many abused and neglected kids still do not get the help they need.
Disagreements and quarrels are normal in any family; one argument here and there is not a big deal, but it is hard for the children when they become frequent or heated. The children may be negatively affected by arguments that involve physical violence, insults, or other forms of conflict resolution, such as the ‘silent treatment’ at home. Even infants as early as six months old can feel the effects of parental conflict (Toth & Manly, 2019). Children of all ages, from toddlers to adults, are impacted by how their parents resolve conflicts. When children can overhear their parents fighting or having an aggressive dispute, it creates a stressful environment for them. Young minds are particularly vulnerable to the effects of stress.
Several adverse psychological effects can occur when youngsters are subjected to parental disagreement; anxiety, despair, and PTSD are some possible results. Both youngsters directly and indirectly harmed by the conflict will show these symptoms. Violence in childhood has been linked to negative outcomes in adulthood (John et al., 2019). Heart failure, obesity, and depression are some health issues that can develop due to childhood trauma. Substance misuse issues in later life are also more likely among people who were abused as children. Children’s physical and mental well-being is negatively affected when exposed to violence at a young age. Adult violence is more common among people who experienced violence as children. Hence, the likelihood of drug addiction, mental health issues, and interpersonal issues is increased when children are exposed to violence at a young age.
Foster Care Settings
Many possible consequences exist for youngsters who have grown up in foster care. Foster children have poorer long-term outcomes than their non-foster care peers, proving that youngsters in such care are more likely to experience mental health issues (John et al., 2019). Children in foster care have a higher rate of relational, academic, and occupational difficulties as adults. Similarly, fostered kids face more challenges than their non-foster care-grown peers. However, some foster children thrive, especially those connected with families at an early age.
Foster children and teenagers are more likely to experience emotional and psychological difficulties than their peers who are not in such care. According to a meta-analysis, children in foster care have nearly a threefold increased risk of developing a mental health disorder (Toth & Manly, 2019). Children abused or neglected have a higher rate of mental health issues. This suggests that children in foster care are more likely to experience emotional and behavioral issues. Nevertheless, some kids in foster care do well after overcoming the difficulties they encounter there. Some kids have challenges with their mental health, while others have other complications. When deciding where a child should live, it is crucial to consider their circumstances.
Sadly, bullying has become common in many public venues, including schools and neighborhoods, where children should feel protected. Bullied children, particularly in their schools and communities, often develop low self-esteem and clinical depression that follows them into adulthood. Children’s mental wellness and trauma are greatly affected by bullying; it can have long-lasting effects like lowering a child’s self-esteem or making them depressed (John et al., 2019). It has been shown that bullied youngsters are more likely to develop anxiety and depression in adulthood. This is because kids who are bullied often end up feeling helpless and alone. In addition, the isolating effects of bullying can be compounded when a child stops participating in extracurricular activities and avoids friends. Children and, particularly, those who are bullied also suffer from bullying. A lifetime of mental illness and substance abuse problems is more prevalent for children who bully others. As a result, addressing bullying and overcoming its consequences is crucial for both parties involved.
The effects of bullying on children’s psychological well-being, social development, and academic outcomes are discussed using evidence drawn from many recent studies. An outstanding summary of the long-lasting and far-reaching effects of bullying in childhood and adolescence is provided by Toth and Manly (2019) in their annual research review. Being a bully’s victim is a major risk factor for the onset of psychological issues in young people. Children who are targets of bullying are more likely to experience suicidal ideation due to the emotional trauma they endure. Suicide ideas and attempts are more common among bullied people. The risk of acquiring anxiety and depression during childhood and adolescence increases in those who have been bullied.
One’s vulnerability to having PTSD increases if they have been the target of bullying. Children who are bullied need to be supported so that they can develop resilience. When it comes to maintaining good mental health over time, resilience is essential. Children who are bullied need to be supported so that they can develop resilience (John et al., 2019). The best way to help these children manage and get better is to provide the tools they need to be resilient. Children who have been mistreated can receive help in a number of different ways. A child’s parents or primary caregivers can play an important role in helping them form a healthy self-concept.
Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Children who have undergone trauma benefit extensively from Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT), an evidence-based treatment. TF-CBT is a form of treatment that helps kids deal with and recover from trauma by teaching them new coping strategies and encouraging them to adopt a more positive outlook. Structured, brief, and inclusive of individual and family sessions, TF-CBT is a form of cognitive behavioral therapy (Toth & Manly, 2019). The goals of TF-CBT are to help the child develop healthy coping mechanisms and reduce PTSD symptoms, including nightmares and flashbacks. Sexual and physical abuse, domestic violence, and natural calamities are all efficiently treated with TF-CBT. Children who have undergone trauma have shown positive results from receiving TF-CBT treatment. This therapy has the potential to aid children in safely processing and comprehending traumatic experiences, which is a major benefit. In addition, PTSD symptoms can be mitigated, and appropriate coping mechanisms can be learned through this sort of therapy for kids.
Adolescent and childhood mental health problems can have multiple causes. Childhood trauma, such as abuse, neglect, or seeing violence, is a major contributor. Many different forms of psychological distress can result from exposure to traumatic events. Young adults’ mental health can be adversely affected by childhood trauma, making it an issue that should be addressed as early as possible. Helping those struggling with the aftereffects of childhood trauma and avoiding the emergence of subsequent mental fitness problems requires an accurate diagnosis and appropriate therapy. Without help, the cycle of mental health issues and substance misuse will continue. Together, people need to learn more about the issue of childhood trauma and its consequences so that they can do more to stop it from happening.
Fisher, J. (2017). Healing the fragmented selves of trauma survivors: Overcoming internal self-alienation. Routledge.
John, S. G., Brandt, T. W., Secrist, M. E., Mesman, G. R., Sigel, B. A., & Kramer, T. L. (2019). Empirically-guided assessment of complex trauma for children in foster care: A focus on appropriate diagnosis of attachment concerns. Psychological Services, 16(1), 120-133. https://doi.org/10.1037/ser0000263
Rothschild, B. (2017). The body remembers: Revolutionizing trauma treatment (Vol. 2). WW Norton & Company.
Toth, S. L., & Manly, J. T. (2019). Developmental consequences of child abuse and neglect: Implications for intervention. Child Development Perspectives, 13(1), 59-64. https://doi.org/10.1111/cdep.12317
Van Assche, L., Van de Ven, L., Vandenbulcke, M., & Luyten, P. (2020). Ghosts from the past? The association between childhood interpersonal trauma, attachment and anxiety and depression in late life. Aging & Mental Health, 24(6), 898-905. https://doi.org/10.1080/13607863.2019.1571017
Van der Kolk, B. (2014). The body keeps the score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. Viking Penguin.