Childhood trauma is a consequence of overwhelmingly negative experiences that a child might have, which can have lasting negative effects. Some of these experiences include but are not limited to – abuse, neglect or violence, which mostly happen in relationships and are called interpersonal trauma. Children can also experience traumatic events such as, accidents, natural disasters, medical procedures or sudden loss of a parent/guardian. Another thing to note is that childhood trauma does not necessarily have to occur to the child directly. For example, watching their parents or a loved one suffer can be extremely traumatic to a child. Exposure to violent media or a violent household can equally traumatize children. However, just because an experience is upsetting it does not mean they are likely to cause trauma.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5) does not list or define childhood trauma separately, however, under child mental disorders classification it provides a clear definition for diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder PTSD in children. PTSD is the most commonly diagnosed form of trauma and refers to the phenomena of re-experiencing the traumatic events again and again in your mind and the stress that comes with it. Therapy for childhood trauma is available but many of those in need live with the effects of trauma without ever getting a formal diagnosis or the sort of trauma treatment that could help them. There is an undisputed correlation between adult ill-health, both physical and psychological, and unresolved trauma.
Some children are at a higher risk than others for suffering from long-term effects from a traumatizing event. How a child processes or experiences these events and how it is handled by people around them can have a strong influence on the extent of trauma that they actually end up going through.
Children tend to have difficulty articulating their feelings and thoughts and are often unable to verbalize the emotions inside them. They use the only alternate channel and act it out. Therefore, these are a few overlooked signs and symptoms to look out for trauma related stresses in children:
Among clinicians, a common term that deals with researching trauma in children and its lasting effects that goes around, is Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE). The ACE study began in the mid-1990s and was done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, USA where more than 17000 people volunteered.
The study identified ten of the most traumatic events or experiences that a child is likely to encounter. The consequences of such events have the potential to leave lasting negative effects on the child for their entire lifetimes without effective trauma therapy. With more data and volunteers that list has broadened, and following are the ten common causes for childhood trauma:
Early childhood trauma can lead to many complications both in childhood and in adulthood. It is a risk factor for many mental health conditions including adult depression, PTSD and most psychiatric disorders, as well as a host of medical problems like heart attack and stroke, cancer, and obesity.
Childhood trauma leads to behavioural changes in the sense that people who suffer from it try to find escape routes from traumatic memories through risky behaviours. Such risky behaviours are driven by impulsivity, and involve drinking, smoking, drug use and even bingeing for comfort. Again, these habits lead to health problems.
Moreover, there is a direct biological effect that occurs when one’s body undergoes extreme stress. When a person experiences something anxiety-provoking, the stress response activates which leads to the production of adrenaline, increase in heartbeat, etc. When stronger surges of adrenaline happen more often than usual and natural, it causes a lot of wear and tear of the body and leads to inflammation. Inflammation has been associated with many illnesses including cardiovascular disease and autoimmune diseases.
As mentioned earlier, it is important to note that not all experiences of trauma will lead to a trauma response or trauma-related disorder or diagnosis. Usually these experiences take their natural course of time until the signs of trauma related response become clearer, and they only meet a specific diagnostic criteria if they extend for more than a month or longer while disrupting the child’s daily life and start impacting their social and emotional well-being.
Broadly, there are two trauma diagnosis:
Family can be a good and often the only support system for a child and a key element towards reducing the impact trauma has on a child, because they are the most influenced by the people immediately around them. A few ways to support a child after a distressing event are:
In very young children, some indicators would be bedwetting, inability to speak, and being overly clingy with a parent or a caregiver. The adolescents, however, may show some disruptive and destructive behaviour.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5) does not list or define childhood trauma separately, however, under child mental disorders classification it provides a clear definition for diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder PTSD in children. Moreover, childhood trauma is a critical risk factor for many mental and physical health conditions.
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