sabato, Aprile 13, 2024

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Childhood adversities as predictors for depression, anxiety and cognition issues in adults: an US sample-based investigation

Associate professor in the College for Public Health and Social Justice at Saint Louis University, SangNam Ahn, PhD, and his team recently published a paper that examines the relationship between childhood adversity, and psychiatric decline as well as adult adversity and psychiatric and cognitive decline. His team discovered that just one instance of adversity in childhood can increase cases of mental illness later in life, and adverse events in adults can lead to a greater chance of both mental illness and cognitive decline later in life. Scientists examined data from more nearly 3500 individuals over the course of 24 years. The group took the longitudinal data, evaluated it using a list of lifetime potential traumatic events and included childhood adversity events such as moving due to financial difficulties, family requiring financial help, a parent experiencing unemployment, trouble with law enforcement before the age of 18, repeating school, physical abuse and parental abuse of drugs or alcohol.

Adulthood adversity events included the death of a child, the death of a spouse, experiencing a natural disaster after age 17, firing a weapon in combat, a partner abusing drugs or alcohol, being a victim of a physical attack after age 17, a spouse or child battling a serious illness, receiving Medicaid or food stamps and experiencing unemployment. The study determined that nearly 40% of all individuals experienced a form of childhood adversity, while that number climbed to nearly 80% for adulthood adversity. Those who experienced childhood adversity were also 17% more likely to experience adulthood adversity. Only 13% of individuals sampled reported two or more forms of childhood adversity, while 52% of adults experienced two or more forms of adult adversity. In cases of either childhood adversity or adulthood adversity, researchers found individuals who experienced adversity were also more likely to experience anxiety and depression later in life.

In addition, in the case of adulthood adversity, were also more likely to experience cognitive decline later in life. Individuals with one childhood adversity experience saw a 5% higher chance of suffering from anxiety, and those with two or more childhood adversity experiences had 26% and 10% higher chances of depression and anxiety, respectively. Individuals who experienced two adulthood adversities had a 24% higher chance of depression, while also experiencing a three percent cognitive decline later in life. While most of the results were expected or unsurprising, one area that stood out to professor Ahn was education. Those individuals studied who reported higher levels of education saw a reduction in the number of adversity experiences. Education is knowledge; and more knowledge means more awareness to face adversities. He hopes to study this avenue more to learn how education may be able to mitigate or prevent these declines.

Then, he explained thoroughly: “Before including education, there was a significant association between childhood adversity and cognitive impairment. But when including education as a covariate, that significant association disappeared. Interesting. So there were important implications here. Education and attending school, people could be better off even if they were exposed to childhood adversity. They’re likely to learn positive coping mechanisms, which may help avoid relying on unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as smoking or excessive drinking or drug use. Education is quite important in terms of health outcomes. If I am educated, I’m likely to get a better job, have a higher income, and live in areas with less crime. I’m likely to buy gym membership or regularly exercise. I’m likely to shop at Whole Foods and get proper nutrition. All of which help combat these adversities we hinted at in the study. So the education and health outcomes are already closely related, and that is what we saw in our study.”

He also encourages clinicians and everyday people alike to discuss their stress with clinicians: “Public health is very interested in stress. But we’re still examining how daily stress impacts our long term health outcomes. So to see the effects here in the study, I want people to pay attention to their stress and proactively address it. Clinicians should have deep discussions with their patients about their stress and mental state. And those topics can be approached in other areas too, like the classroom or the dining room table. The more we are aware of stress and discuss our stress, the better we can handle any adversities we find in life”.

  • Edited by Dr. Gianfrancesco Cormaci, PhD, specialist in Clinical Biochemistry.

Scientific references

Ahn S et al. J Clin Psychol. 2024 Jan 31; in press.

Morris MC et al. Behav Med. 2023; 46(6):996-1009.

Gehrt TB et al. Scand J Psychol. 2022; 63(6):565-572.

Kwak M, Ahn S. Aging Ment Health. 2020; 24(7):1141.


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Dott. Gianfrancesco Cormaci
Dott. Gianfrancesco Cormaci
Laurea in Medicina e Chirurgia nel 1998, specialista in Biochimica Clinica dal 2002, ha conseguito dottorato in Neurobiologia nel 2006. Ex-ricercatore, ha trascorso 5 anni negli USA alle dipendenze dell' NIH/NIDA e poi della Johns Hopkins University. Guardia medica presso la casa di Cura Sant'Agata a Catania. In libera professione, si occupa di Medicina Preventiva personalizzata e intolleranze alimentari. Detentore di un brevetto per la fabbricazione di sfarinati gluten-free a partire da regolare farina di grano. Responsabile della sezione R&D della CoFood s.r.l. per la ricerca e sviluppo di nuovi prodotti alimentari, inclusi quelli a fini medici speciali.

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