Several mental health issues, including obsessive compulsive behaviors, depression, tic disorders and attention deficit hyperactivity, have been linked to abnormal white and gray matter in adolescents as was a result of their premature birth. According to a new study led by Dr. Agnes Whitaker of the Columbia University Medical Center / New York State Psychiatric Institute, the mental health issues were caused by subcortical-cortical circuit dysfunction. The study is significant because health professionals who address psychiatric issues and perinatal brain injuries, such as psychiatrists, pediatricians and neurologists, could possible provide earlier diagnoses and interventions for the children and adolescents affected by these circumstances.
The researchers examined over 400 adolescents, none of whom had disabilities. Each test subject had been born prematurely and their ultrasound from birth had revealed abnormalities in their brain structure. The researchers conducted cognitive tests on the participants, and also interviewed the adolescents and their parents and asked them a series of questions to determine the presence of any mental health issues. The discovered that there was a strong link between mental health issues appearing in adolescence and perinatal brain injuries. The researchers allowed for pre-existing health concerns and other factors that could influence the presence of mental health issues and found no other social or medical factors for their findings.
Experts have long believed that trauma to the brain at an early age, or even pre-mature brain development, can play a part in the development of various mental health and psychiatric issues. But this study is the first evidentially-based study of its kind to confirm the relation between perinatal brain injuries and psychiatric problems in later life. Whitaker, who is a research psychiatrist in the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at New York State Psychiatric Institute, says, “The study is a beautiful example of interdisciplinary work. The team included researchers from neonatology, pediatrics, psychiatry, and epidemiology. It couldn’t have been done otherwise.”
© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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