Trauma During Childhood Triples the Risk of Suffering a Serious Mental Disorder in Adulthood

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

Source: IMIM

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

Suffering psychological trauma during childhood significantly increases the risk of developing a mental disorder in adulthood. Specifically, as much as three times, according to a recent study led by researchers at the Hospital del Mar Medical Research Institute, published in the journal European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience.

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

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

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

Suffering one of these situations damages the brain, causing physical as well as psychological consequences in the form of various disorders. In the case of emotional abuse, the most frequent trauma is associated with the most prevalent 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 traumas, obsessive-compulsive disorder or bipolar disorder.

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

This shows a sad little boy
Suffering psychological trauma during childhood significantly increases the risk of developing a mental disorder in adulthood. Image is in the public domain

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

Study the history of the sufferer

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

In this sense, “It is necessary to guide the patient through their life history, to really review what has happened to them. Currently, we question what isn’t working, but not what has happened in their life, because this requires opening up potentially painful subjects, and it is avoided.”

The study also highlights the fact that other traumas such as catastrophes, violent deaths or family abuse 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 traumas, the course of the disease is worse. For these reasons, Dr. Amann calls for action.

“On the one hand, we must treat psychological trauma in our patients, but we also have to take action in the political and social spheres and invest more in prevention. For example, by educating families and setting up programs to prevent bullying, which is a very important risk factor in terms of suffering a mental disorder, both for those who receive it and for those who perpetrate it,” he says.

About this neurodevelopment and mental health research news

Author: Press Office
Source: IMIM
Contact: Press Office – IMIM
Image: The image is in the public domain

Original Research: Closed access.
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 Neuroscience


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

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

We re-calculated the odds ratio (OR), 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, the 95% confidence interval of the largest study, heterogeneity between studies, 95% prediction interval, small-study effect, and excess 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 TRANSD criteria.

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

Fourteen reviews met 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 of an association between psychological trauma at any time-point and any mental disorder (OR = 2.92) and between childhood trauma and any mental disorder (OR = 2.90).

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

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

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  1. I can relate to this article. My parents were very abusive. I had trouble learning in school and I never felt right and everyone just steps on me because I have trouble respecting myself

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  3. Now The “ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM” . . . Residual Profound Effects Of Birth Related Trauma And Injury On Normal Brain & Personality Development of the Neonate/Infant. TBI, HIE And Later Development Of AUTISM And Related Neurodevelopmental Disability.

  4. This is an excellent article. I wish more people understood these disorders. I was taken from my real mom and dad because of my mom’s abuse. Only to be placed in foster homes where I wad sexuslly snd physically abused. I was locked in dog kennels even the winter snd made to sleep with Germsn Shepard dogs. Those dogs kept me warm and loved me more foster parents. I had three abusive homes until I was six. Then I finally had a good home. But the damage was done..I never showed any signs until my daughter was born. I went through the worst post pardum depression. That’s when I was diagnosed with my disorder. I started having nightmares, and going through flashbacks of my past. It was horrible. It took 20 years, 2 failed marriages and attempted suicide before I found the right drug to help me. People need to know that is a happy ending to fighting these diseases and you can live a normal happy life. Never give up. I thank God everyday I’m still here..I lost my daughter last year and got so depressed and I started to feel myself going down that dark pit again but I knew I couldn’t allow grief to consume me.

    1. I know it’s an ongoing battle. I’m learning how to be my own best friend. My son was murdered 5yrs ago. My parents never acknowledged my childhood trauma so I never dealt with it the way I should have. Some people say “be gentle with yourself”. Some people say “be militant”. You have to do both and only YOU know what will work in the moment. The trick is to HAVE that “bag of tricks” that you can pull from… one right after another if you have to. I was “Frozen” for 2 yrs after my son’s death. I got help and the right meds. I am working full time again now. Still battling because it is a life time commitment to good mental health once you’ve been through what we’ve been through.

  5. “Suffering psychological trauma during childhood significantly increases the risk of developing a mental disorder in adulthood.” This is yet another article that utterly fails to acknowledge the role of chronic learning performance anxiety in school as a widespread psychological trauma. Since the initial emergence of ACE I’ve been interested in getting an additional type of ACE added to the framework: the adverse childhood experience of feeling CHRONICALLY NOT GOOD ENOUGH AT LEARNING. Where is the ACE score for “Chronic Learning-Performance Anxiety-Shame”? For day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year feeling the shame that accompanies feeling, chronically, not enough at learning? Though not as episodically acute as the other ACE types, most of our kids experience this, and the consequent effects, are profoundly life warping. I hope the authors of this paper or others conducting related research will add chronic learning performance anxiety to their list of childhood traumas.

  6. Can I recommend the new release of “Empty Cup” by Stacey Powells? It’s a collection of essays with much references to what you’ve mentioned.

  7. Yes cause childhood jacked me up somebody tried to make a dog have sex with me I’m mentally exhausted just knowing never able to forget the abuse being bullied and the same ppl who tried to destroy my life even in my marriage made my life a living hell I don’t know how to start over and my husband was killed I’m so hurt

  8. Thank you for this article.
    As a retired counseling professional I like your last screen with information on getting help in case the reader identifies with the issues discussed here.

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