Childhood Trauma And Immunity

  • 4 mins read
  • Wellbeing
  • Relationships
  • Dr. Jatin Bhide

Childhood is supposed to be all fun and frolic. Most of us are blessed to have sweet and quite often hilarious memories of childhood. After all, it is a time to be pampered and lathered in toys and cuddles. However, certain tragic experiences can darken these sweet memories forever and leave a lasting impression on children. Be it the loss of a family member, a natural disaster, or even abuse of any form. These early-life stresses can cause a lot of damage to children in their formative years. In many cases, it even hampers the development of their immune system. Let’s have a look at how trauma can impact the adult life of a child.

  • Different traumatic experiences

We all have some distinct memories from our childhood. Be it a special birthday, or a fun trip, or getting your new favourite toy. Reminiscing on these memories can still make us smile. That’s the power of memories.

Just like that, a horrible and traumatic memory can send shivers down your spine even years later. This could be in the form of maltreatment by adults, bullying by peers, verbal/physical/sexual abuse, a natural calamity, terrorism and violence, etc. Dealing with these events can be hard on the mind as well as the body.

  • Hurdles in brain development

We are not born with a genius brain ready to take on the world. Our brains develop over time after birth and undergo dramatic changes in the early years.

The impact of trauma can reduce the thinking capacity of children’s brains, and this effect is seen even years later. Some of them even develop mental health disorders like schizophrenia, psychosis, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

  • The impact on immunity

Like our brains, our immune system is not fully developed at birth. They share an intricate connection. It comes as no surprise that psychological stress during childhood can negatively affect the development of immunity. Studies have shown that experiencing a traumatic event in childhood can increase markers of inflammation even 20 years later. Also, psychiatric disorders can increase inflammatory substances in the body.

Nightmares followed by trauma are common, which makes the kid revisit the traumatic experience and trigger bodily reactions as well. These nightmares can be very disturbing and can negatively impact wellbeing and immunity.

  • Coping with trauma

Even as adults, we can barely keep it together sometimes after a tragedy. It’s way harder for children to do so. Those little lives depend on help from us to cope with trauma. Here’s what you can do:

  • Identify their triggers and help them avoid these triggers till they have healed.
  • Look out for signs of depression.
  • Be available for them emotionally and physically.
  • Encourage them and boost their self-esteem.
  • Be consistent and predictable. Prepare the child in advance for major changes or new experiences.
  • Get professional help if things get out of control.

 

  • Growing stronger

Building resilience in children post-trauma can go a long way in rebuilding their confidence and self-esteem. Overall mental wellbeing can provide a boost to their immunity as well.

Living through trauma is bad enough, but experiencing its effects years later is worse. Children have precious little minds and wounds to the mind can take a long time to heal at this particular age. We must do everything we can to protect our children, our future.

References:

  1. Devi F, et al. The prevalence of childhood trauma in psychiatric outpatients. Ann Gen Psychiatry. 2019;18:15.
  2. Popovic D, et al.  Childhood trauma in schizophrenia: Current findings and research perspectives. Front Neurosci. 2019;13:274.
  3. Parenting a child who has experienced trauma. Available from: https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/child-trauma.pdf. Accessed on 4 May 2021.
  4. Abdurachman, et al. The role of psychological well-being in boosting immune response: an optimal effort for tackling infection. Afr J Infect Dis. 2018;12(1 Suppl):54-61.
  5. D’Elia ATD, et al. Childhood sexual abuse and indicators of immune activity: A systematic review. Front Psychiatry. 2018;9:354.

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