Future Effects of Childhood Stress


SCARSDALE, N.Y. — The effect of long term stress on the brain may correlate with emotional disorders and anxiety later in life, according to a recent PsyBlog article. Children who experience childhood stress over a long period time in impoverished communities may be more susceptible to these disorders as adults.

The article is based on a UC Berkeley study that examined how brains change under stress, affecting how parts of the brain communicate. The author of PsyBlog, Jeremy Dean, explains that when the brain does not communicate properly, an individual has difficulty responding to stress in an appropriate manner.

In another article, Dean stated, “One idea is that exposure to stress at a young age – while the brain is still developing–causes permanent damage to the ability to deal with stress.” This study tested adults with various backgrounds, measuring subjects’ responses to stressful images. Adults with exposure to extreme childhood poverty struggled to control their emotions while viewing the images. The findings proved that long periods of exposure to loud noises, violence and improper housing as a child trigger stress in adulthood.

For instance, studies show that children who spend large portions of their life in an orphanage are more prone to emotional disorders. In a 2013 Bloomberg article, Nicole Ostrow evaluated the development of children raised in orphanages. She interviewed Matthew Cohen, a researcher involved in the study at Weill Cornell, noting his thoughts: “When growing up in an unpredictable situation such as an orphanage, you are altering the way the brain allocates resources to interpret the world around it. By doing so, you end up altering the behavior of the animal or humans later on.”

These facts describe an astonishingly large portion of the world’s future population. A 2013 World Bank report found that an estimated 400 million children in the world live in extreme poverty. In the United States, the National Center for Children in Poverty ascertains that 16 million, or approximately 22 percent, of children live in poverty. The NCCP also contends that mental health challenges greatly impact low-income families.

Current research suggests that early intervention in schools, family centers and other youth facilities could prevent the development of these disorders. The NCCP states, “For low-income young children to thrive, their families need access to affordable, high-quality services—such as health and mental health care, early care and learning, and parenting support.” The organization recommends that states design systems and facilities to offer more support for impoverished families.

While different countries need to respond to the stresses of childhood poverty via varying methods, CLASP, an organization that strives to create policy solutions for low-income families, proposes solutions for the United States. CLASP believes that states must strengthen programs that support low-income parents, including Unemployment Insurance, food stamps, and Earned Income Tax Credit. Strong support programs will lower household tension over finances, decreasing stress for children.

In addition, raising the minimum wage and offering better early public childcare will create less stressful environments for children. Prevention against childhood stress from poverty may be the best solution to decreasing adult mental health and anxiety issues.

Sources: CLASP, Psyblog 1, Psyblog 2, Bloomberg, NCCP 1, NCCP 2, World Bank, NCCP 3
Feature Image: Flickr


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