The need for treatment after traumatic childhood experiences has been highlighted by two studies, released within weeks of one another, which draw striking connections between childhood hardship and serious behavioral and mental health problems later in life. The first, published in the open-access journal Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health, looked at over 9,000 individuals aged 12-19 living in four different sub-Saharan African countries. This was one of the first studies to specifically address African teens, and its findings are consistent with those in other parts of the world: childhood hardships (specifically physically abuse, sexual coercion, food insecurity, and living with a problem drinker) significantly increase the likeliness of teenage drinking.
The second study comes from the British Journal of Psychiatry and looks at childhood hardships as predictors of adult suicide. In this case, the hardships addressed included family violence, physical illness, financial adversity, physical abuse, and sexual abuse, as well as parental death, divorce, or other parental loss. The main finding was that experiencing such an event before age 18 is a strong predictor of suicidal attempts or thoughts later in life. Beyond that, researchers found that each additional hardship increases the likeness of suicidal tendencies even further. Of the various hardships assessed, physical and sexual abuse had the deepest impact on individuals.
Together, these studies highlight an essential need to provide support, stable environments, and therapy to children who have had tough childhoods. This may seem obvious for individuals who have been direct targets of abuse, but these studies show that even household stresses (financial adversity, food instability, and parental drinking) can have a long term behavioral and psychological impact on the child. Providing access to individual counseling, group therapy, and other support outlets may help these children develop healthy coping strategies, and therefore prevent them from turning to alcohol or suicide as a means of escape.
© Copyright 2010 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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