It has long been known that childhood trauma, such as abuse or death of a parent, can lead to psychological and behavioral problems. But this new study also shows that childhood trauma is linked to accelerated aging.
As reported in PsyBlog: “The results showed that both mental health problems and childhood adversity were associated with shortening of telomeres — caps on each strand of DNA which affect how the cells age.”
While I have not read the entire study, previous studies have shown that trauma does not have to be significant for it to affect a child. Trauma does not have to mean sexual abuse or being beaten. To a child, merely the lack of warmth of an accepting, loving parent is enough to be considered traumatic.
This makes complete sense is we understand attachment theory and look at the effect of chronic stress on the body and mind. Children have a biological need for safety and warmth. A child exposed to frightening situations early in life, such as domestic violence, crime or abuse, becomes primed to remain chronically in “fight-or-flight” mode. The body’s arousal system is then perpetually “on guard,” which is exhausting mentally and physically.
Many people with “mental disorders” have problems with both fatigue and hyper-arousal. The body is not designed to remain in alert mode; it is designed to flee or fight, then immediately relax in the safety of our tribe.
Children with early trauma often have rarely experienced the safe haven of caring, nurturing parents or environments. If their trust has been betrayed through emotional or physical neglect or abuse, they may lack secure attachment to caregivers, which means they may also never know how to relax into the comfort of a caring relationship.
Studies like this confirm what makes common sense: The lack of a feeling of safety in childhood is linked to poor outcomes in both mental and physical health. Quite simply, feeling accepted, protected and loved are key components of childrearing. The rise in mental illness and now of accelerated aging and physical illness can be directly traced to a lack of warmth in parents and caregivers or a disruption in their care.
This makes it all the more clear that parenting education and early childhood interventions can have tremendous impacts on the mental and physical health of millions of people.