The Neurobiological Effects of Childhood Abuse and major depressive disorder.
Updated: Aug 18, 2022
Getting my head around my shit:
Childhood abuse, whether it’s emotional, physical, or sexual, impacts a child’s psychological health into adulthood by altering the way their brain develops and later functions throughout their life. A child’s brain is still developing and extremely malleable, which is why early abuse can result in permanent developmental changes from a neurobiological standpoint. These anomalies can lead to a myriad of psychiatric problems, including:
Major Depressive Disorder (MDD)
Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). (Teicher M. H., 2000)
MDD is comprised of a multitude of symptoms including prolonged sadness or deflated mood, anhedonia, significant changes in weight or appetite, insomnia or hypersomnia, irritability, difficulty in concentration and memory, and even the consideration of suicide.
(American Psychiatric Association, 2000)
BPD is most notably characterized by persistent emotional instability, especially within relationships, impulsive behavior, abnormal affect, chronic and extreme fear of abandonment, and frequently includes suicide gestures. Depression is also commonly experienced by patients with BPD. (American Psychiatric Association, 2000; Comer, 2011)
PTSD occurs only after a person suffers a severe trauma, which results in flashbacks, depression, anhedonia, flat affect or restriction of experienced emotion, anxiety, panic attacks, avoidance of possible triggers, nightmares, sleep disturbances, dissociation, irritability, difficulty with concentration and memory, and hyperarousal including a hypersensitive startle response. (American Psychiatric Association, 2000)
How does child abuse put a person at increased risk for developing MDD, BPD, or PTSD? One of the leading experts in the field on this subject, Dr. Martin H. Teicher, hypothesized that “the trauma of abuse induces a cascade of effects, including changes in hormones and neurotransmitters that mediate development of vulnerable brain regions.” (Teicher, 2000, p. 5 para. 3)
His research, as well as many others, has found that several specific brain abnormalities repeatedly appear in patients with a history of abuse. These abnormalities include limbic irritability, inadequate development and differentiation of the left hemisphere, insufficient left-right hemisphere integration, and abnormal activity in the cerebellar vermin, all of which result in symptoms that correlate with MDD, BPD, and PTSD.
(Spiers, et al., 1985; Ito Y., et al., 1993; Teicher, et al., 1993; Bremmer, et al., 1997; Stein, et al.; 1997; Ito Y., et al., 1998; Teicher M.H., 2000, van der Kolk, 2003)
What the results of all this research have indicated is that their “belief that trauma causes brain damage” is not unfounded. (Teicher, 2000, p. 5, para. 4)
The limbic system, which is the part of the brain that controls much of our emotion, as well as our survival instincts, is damaged by childhood abuse, as evidenced from the findings of multiple studies. (Spiers, et al., 1985; Teicher, et al., 1993; Teicher, 2000)
Compared to non-abused people, victims of childhood abuse have much higher rates of disturbances in their limbic system, referred to as limbic irritability, which has been found to be associated with seizures known as temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE) and significant EEG abnormalities. Signs of TLE are 38% greater in physically abused patients, 49% greater in sexually abused patients, and an alarming 113% greater in patients who were both physically and sexually abused. (Spiers, et al., 1985; Teicher, et al., 1993; Teicher, 2000)
Further, if the abuse transpired before the age of 18, it had a much larger effect on the patient’s limbic system than abuse that occurred after the age of 18, which indicates that childhood is definitely a particularly sensitive time of development for the brain. Limbic irritability plays a key part in predisposing a person for PTSD later in life, as well as increasing their risk for developing dissociative and impaired memory symptoms. Further, neurochemical changes in these sections of the brain also result in a greater stress response and hypervigilance. Limbic irritability is also linked to chronic unhappiness, aggression, and violent tendencies toward oneself and others, which can also be linked both to MDD and BPD. (Teicher M. H., 2000) Read the full article here: