Early Childhood Trauma has ‘Greatest Effect’ on Adult Mental Health
A Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) study has found evidence that trauma experienced in early childhood has long-term effects that can alter gene expression and have consequences for future mental health.
Their report finds that the timing of adverse experiences has a more powerful effect than the number of such experiences.
Lead author Eric Dunn said: “The findings suggest that the first three years of life may be an especially important period for shaping biological processes that ultimately give rise to mental health conditions.
“If these results are replicated, they imply that prioritizing policies and interventions to children who experienced adversity during those years may help reduce the long-term risk for problems like depression.”
Studies conducted in both animals and humans have found that adverse experiences early in life can have lasting effects on epigenetics, the process by which chemical tags added to a DNA sequence control whether or not a gene is expressed.
These studies reported differences in DNA methylation, which can either silence or enhance gene expression, between individuals who were and were not exposed to early-life stressors.