Neglected children and mental illness

As it seems, abused and neglected children are very likely to develop mental illness later in their life. As a result, they grow into broken adults.

We have to keep trying, right? We must learn to mend what’s broken. Why? Because mental illness doesn’t just affect the mind, it can also cause chronic physical illnesses as well. And it’s not just about you or me, it’s about the human race as a whole.

We cannot just medicate and blend into society. Yes, this helps others who have to deal with the sick, but what does it do for the ones who suffer first hand? We must keep trying to relate to mental illness. If we know where something came from, then we are better equipped to fight it.

We must study cause and effect

Sometimes, in order to understand what’s happening, we have to travel back in time. Mental illness is not one of those ailments that can be traced to the last cigarette or the last two years of eating unhealthy foods. No, we must go back further than that because…

…I believe mental illness originated from childhood neglect and abuse.

One way that we have learned to understand the origins of depression and anxiety is taking a look at genetics. Mental illness, we have found, can be passed from generation to generation. But, it’s sometimes a little more complicated than that. Although genetics play a huge role, mental illness comes from other things as well -like childhood trauma.

Did we, as parents, friends and relatives, do this to our children?

I’m going to a dark place and I want you to come with me. You will not like the wind that blows through these parts. I’m taking you back to where I think the madness began-childhood neglect and abuse.

Neglected children

This is what I think. It’s our fault. It’s not just the genetic makeup, it’s about what we did or didn’t do for our children. I don’t think we fully understand what childhood neglect can do and how neglected children feel. Neglected children suffer from all sorts of disorders while still young -they battle fear, low self-esteem and anger. When they are offered loving adults to heal their neglect, it seems that these monsters of emotions will not go away.

Neglected children don’t always have to suffer by being orphaned behind a dumpster either. Sometimes parents never leave, but still, children feel alone. This kind of childhood neglect can be just as devastating.  The damage is done -depression sets in, followed by the anxiety of not knowing how to repair or cope. The darkness of being a neglected child can follow all the way into adulthood and cause serious repercussions. As a result of the past, a child may not be able to connect to her own children, leaving a pattern of childhood neglect.

Abused children

As with neglected children, abuse can have a similar effect. Unlike neglect, abuse is aggressive harm, consisting of molestation, violence or emotional damage. I believe that long before adulthood, mental illness has taken root, growing from the fertile grounds of abuse. A child cannot sleep because of fear of vulnerability, a child cannot eat because of nervous anxiety and neither can this child socialize because of the weight of awkward rejection stealing a peaceful mind. It’s useless to fight it, mental illness is a destiny that can only be avoided by the strongest victims.

At least this is what I believe…So, am I right?

Dr. Martin Teicher, along with other Harvard researchers tested 200 participants, between the ages of 18-25, to see if there was a clear connection between childhood neglect and abuse and adult mental illness. Other traumas, such as gang violence, were excluded in order to get an uncomplicated picture of what was going on. Of the participants in this study, 25% suffered major depression at some time in life. Of these, 7% suffered from PTSD. Of the 16% that had suffered from some form of child mistreatment, the results were pretty conclusive. Most of them, 53% suffered from depression, while 40% suffered from PTSD.

Brain scans revealed the truth after trauma. Regardless of their mental health, former abused children showed a 6% reduction in the size of the hippocampus and 4% reduction in the subiculum and presubiculum.

This is where it all connects. Apparently, the high hormonal stress levels, resulting from childhood neglect and abuse, damages these regions of the brain. This can affect a person’s ability to deal with stress later in life. What’s more, this damage can cause a feedback loop -the subiculum, after abuse, releases warning signals while also producing dangerous levels of neurotransmitters that kill brain cells. This is useful for soldiers or children hiding from their abusers but can be detrimental long-term-thus permanent chemical imbalances or mental illness. Addiction can also occur due to the damaged subiculum. Signals can go haywire triggering a dopamine stress response, forming cravings and feelings of low self-worth. This combination causes damaged people to seek substances to fill the void and the hunger. We need a do-over or a reset!

So, we have to keep trying

You know, I would like to believe that childhood neglect and abuse is unrelated to mental illness, but I don’t. Studies seem to follow closely behind what I have always thought to be true. Fortunately, by learning these connections, we can also learn new ways of mending what is broken. I hope that one day, medications, counselling and group therapy isn’t the only way to help us get through the day. Mental illness is not a death sentence after all. It’s simply a way to let us know that we are still broken.

We must keep fighting our way out of the darkness, further toward enlightenment and fulfillment. Maybe one day…

We can be whole again.

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Sherrie is a freelance writer and artist with over 10 years of experience. She spends most of her time giving life to the renegade thoughts. As the words erupt and form new life, she knows that she is yet again free from the nagging persistence of her muse. She is a mother of three and a lifetime fan of the thought-provoking and questionable aspects of the universe.