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Early-life stress may cause even worse outcomes than brain injury

little kids

Did you know that the human brain stops developing in the mid-to-late 20s? Knowing that, what do you think would happen if a child experiences something that is able to affect their brain— something like severe stress or a brain injury?

You guessed right. Such a change can alter the person's behavior well into their adulthood. Of course, if the brain changes during development, it will most definitely affect its function. And as studies show, children who experience adverse stressful conditions often grow up developing some mental health disorder. Substance abuse, PTSD, ADHD, name it.

That is now common knowledge.

But here's something most people don't know: stress can cause even more change in the brain than a bump to the head.

While it's intuitive to imagine traumatic brain injury causing more changes in a child's brain, a new study suggests that stress can have an even more significant impact.

Head injuries are common in young kids (they fall a lot, don't they?) These genes have been linked to mood and social disorders later in life. That's because the genes in the brain, which is still developing, are altered. The brain is still plastic—it tries to adapt to changes. But when the change is faulty (like a brain injury), the results are negative. Think mental disorders.

However, adverse childhood experiences cause even more changes in these brain genes than traumatic brain injury.

And it's worse when the child experiences both stress and traumatic brain injury (TBI). According to the researchers, it would seem like stress affects how TBI changes the brain.

The research was done in rodents. Those who experienced early life stress tend to exhibit more risky behavior when older, like putting themselves in harm’s way. And this is with what we see among humans, that early-life stress can lead to risk-taking behaviors like substance use disorder and ADHD.

This is more reason why we need to protect our kids and be mindful of their experiences. Their brains are fragile. And while they can easily absorb and adapt to positive habits, negative experiences can also shape their brain just as well, and the results are hardly ever pleasant.

If you or your child has gone through traumatic early-life experiences that you worry may be affecting your future now, you can still do something about it. Whether it's ADHD, PTSD, or substance abuse, we can help.

Let's talk about it.

Author
Satu H. Woodland, PMHCNS-BC, APRN Satu H. Woodland, PMHCNS-BC, APRN Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Hope Mental Health, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. She sees children, adolescents, and adults.  Ms. Woodland with her background in nursing, prefers a holistic and integrative approach to mental health care that addresses the mind and body together. While Ms. Woodland provides medication management services in all her patients, she believes in long-lasting solutions that include a number of psychotherapies, namely cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure and response prevention therapy, attention to lifestyle, evidenced based alternative psychiatric care and spirituality. If you’d like to gain control over your mental health issues, call Hope Mental Health at 208-918-0958, or use the online scheduling tool to set up an initial consultation.

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