Link Between Early Life Stress and Poorer Adult Mental Health


Photo courtesy of Matthias G. Ziegler/Shutterstock

A group of predominantly African-American adult males who endured high levels of stress between the ages of 5 and 8 typically displayed less activity than normal in the parts of their brains linked to motivation, positive moods and depression, according to brain scan research conducted by a group that included Jamie Hanson, formerly a professor at Duke University who is now an associate professor of psychology at the University of Pittsburgh.

Hanson and the other researchers did not find this pattern linked to stresses experienced by the study subjects between ages 9 and 12, or 13 and 17.

The study, originally reported in the October 2015 issue of the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, included 72 men age 26 in the U.S., predominantly African-American, who were known to have suffered high stress during childhood. Beginning at age 5, they and their parents were interviewed annually about adverse events that had occurred in the previous year. The researchers knew, for example, when parents had developed drug problems or experienced mental health issues, and when there were family conflicts, divorces or chronic illnesses that significantly affected the family’s functioning.

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Katherine Kopp is a freelance writer and editor in Chapel Hill.

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