The exposure to trauma, such as parental mental illness and household dysfunction, during early childhood period is a recognized risk factor for later development of anxiety and mood disorders. Only a fraction of children who experience traumatic stress, however, actually develop anxiety or mood disorders in adulthood, even though many youth are exposed to severe adversity during childhood. Thus, the enduring question in the study of stress-related neuropsychiatric illness is why some individuals are more susceptible to the traumatic effects of stress than others.
Findings of a new study, published in Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging, indicate that childhood trauma alters the brain circuits involved in affective processing, and, consequently, influences stress adaptation (vulnerability or resilience) and the development of anxiety or mood disorders in adolescence. Also, findings show that “childhood, but not late adolescence, is a particularly important developmental period in determining neural adaption to adversity,” the authors write in their publication.