The link between childhood trauma and mental illness: What parents and pediatricians should know


When I saw this in a respected journal of pediatric medicine, I was surprised, not because of what it says, but because of what it does not say. In the whole article, there is no mention of traumatic childhood experiences as a major cause of childhood and adult depression.

Check out the ACE study, which studied the relationship of adverse childhood experiences to all sorts of negative life outcomes, including depression. "ACE" stands for Adverse Childhood Experience. Ten were defined (I list them below). Of the 17,000+ adults in the study, 2/3 reported at least traumatic experience, and over half reported two. The increase in depression risk was directly correlated with the number of traumas suffered--but the risk even increased with merely one event. At six events, for instance, the risk for suicide was 30 times that of the normal population. That's right, not 300% increased risk--3,000% increased risk. [Click here to learn about the ACE study]

What treats trauma? Trauma therapy. Meds are great, but they usually don't do much for trauma. When therapy is finally mentioned in this article, only cognitive talk therapy gets mentioned, and even it is characterized as a shoulder to cry on, not as a science.

EMDR is the trauma therapy I am trained in. I get great results with traumatized children and teens using EMDR. In my experience, children are way easier to treat than adults because they haven't had to live with the pain long enough to build up the huge walls adults have. As the ACE study indicates, not treating trauma at an early age usually leads to negative life outcomes as adults, which necessitates more complex therapy.

If your child has been through any of the following "ACE's," as identified by the ACE study, he or she is at risk for ADHD, depression, PTSD, drug abuse, and even suicidal behaviors. Note that parents divorcing turns out to be as much of an ACE to children as sex abuse and witnessing domestic violence. The ACE study identifies:

  • Physical abuse

  • Sexual abuse

  • Emotional abuse

  • Physical neglect

  • Emotional neglect

  • Mother treated violently

  • Household substance abuse

  • Household mental illness

  • Parental separation or divorce

  • Incarcerated household member

So if your child has had a traumatic experience and is showing signs of mental illness, for instance depression, there's more than likely a link, and you should sign your kid up to be evaluated by a trauma therapist like me, end of story. I am developing a presentation on trauma and trauma treatment for medical professionals in my community, because cooperation is the solution.

Here's the rest of the article: