Posts Tagged ‘trauma’

In September, the Brooklyn Psychedelic Society hosted a “Plant Parenthood” event to educate moms and dads on how psychedelics can make a person a better — and more present — parent.

Psychedelics have been shown to help people battling depression and anxiety by disrupting ruminative thought patterns, and enabling people to connect more deeply to the world around them.

A number of parents at the “Plant Parenthood” event said that psychedelics have helped them to overcome childhood trauma and keep it from interfering with how they relate to their own children now.

When Nina’s baby turned 1 last year, Nina quit her job working as a therapist. She realized she could no longer cope, let alone help her patients get through trying times.

Nina was still battling postpartum depression. When she held her daughter, she wanted to feel at peace the way she had always envisioned. But, instead, she was awash with dark memories of her traumatic childhood and sexual assault.

That’s when Nina started microdosing with LSD and mushrooms. It’s also when she finally started to feel some relief.

“I realized how much I was reliving my childhood trauma through my own child,” Nina, who asked to use just her first name to protect her family’s privacy, told Insider. “It was affecting my mothering skills. I wanted the cycle of trauma to end with me.”

Nina, who lives in Brooklyn, New York, grew up homeless and often felt responsible for her mother’s hardships. She felt guilty that her mother endured a difficult pregnancy with her, and she constantly worried about her mother’s financial struggles.

Now, the 31-year-old microdoses a couple of times a week in sub-perceptual doses — very low amounts that don’t cause a user to experience a traditional “trip.” The precise amount is determined based on a person’s tolerance and body weight.

Nina said the experience has helped her to let go of some of her pain and refocus energy towards her daughter.

The mother of one is hardly alone in examining how psychedelics could help her become a better parent. Insider met Nina at a September event in Brooklyn called “Plant Parenthood,” which was an opportunity for moms and dads to learn more about the benefits of psychedelics.


The Brooklyn Psychedelic Society hosted an event last month to teach about the benefits of psychedelics. Jodie Love

Organized by Brooklyn Psychedelic Society, a group that educates about psychedelics, the event drew about 30 parents. Panelists, which included a poet, a church founder, and a lactation consultant, spoke from personal experience about how psychedelics can help people to overcome trauma, battle addiction, treat anxiety and depression, and simply feel more present.

Psychedelics help to disrupt ruminative thought patterns

Research into how psychedelics can be incorporated into a therapy setting began in the 1990s.

Psychedelics have been shown to disrupt the way people who are distressed think, and allow them to break out of depressive thought patterns. Psilocybin, which is similar in chemical makeup to LSD,targets the “default mode network” in the brain, and essentially causes that part of the mind to go “offline,” author Michael Pollan wrote in his book, “How to Change Your Mind,” which was excerpted in the Wall Street Journal.

In turn, the user is able to more effectively connect to other people and the world around them.

“All these disorders involve uncontrollable and endlessly repeating loops of rumination that gradually shade out reality and fray our connections to other people and the natural world,” Pollan wrote. “The ego becomes hyperactive, even tyrannical, enforcing rigid habits of thought and behavior — habits that the psychedelic experience, by loosening the ego’s grip, could help us to break.”

More than 30 million Americans are psychedelic users, according to a 2013 study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information. That figure has remained consistent since the 1970s, Matthew Johnson, associate professor of psychiatry at the John Hopkins Center for Psychedelic Research, told Insider.

Johnson said that many of his patients who have used the mind-altering drugs report feeling more present and having a better ability to refocus their priorities, especially when it comes to familial relationships.

Despite the purported benefits, Johnson doesn’t encourage the use of these substances to help with improving parenting techniques. However, he confirmed that the drugs are physiologically safe for most people: They’re non-addictive and it’s nearly impossible to overdose.

People with heart conditions, however, run the risk of experiencing elevated blood pressure and cardiac arrest. The drugs are also unsafe for people who have schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and other psychotic disorders, because they can lead to a psychotic break.

That being said, anybody who takes a high enough dose can have a “bad trip” which, though relatively rare, can lead to potentially dangerous behaviors. “I have a file folder full of cases where people have gotten into accidents or killed by the police because they were out of it and broke into a neighbor’s house,” Johnson said. Anxiety and depression can be exacerbated, even though there are anecdotes stating the opposite.

Experts across the board stress the importance of parents hiring a babysitter to care for their children while they’re using psychedelics.

A number of parents at the Brooklyn event agreed that the drugs have helped them to relate to their children in a deeper way.

“Psychedelics have cleared the path between me and my son,” Nicholas Powers, a poet and journalist, said during the event. “This helps me listen to him.”

Others had similar experiences to Nina, saying that psychedelics allowed them to overcome issues from their childhoods, and keep them from interfering with their relationships with their children.

This was the case with Danny Allan, a 42-year-old filmmaker and father of one. Allan said he and his wife take a “hearty” dose of mushrooms once every few months. They aim to mimic indigenous shamanic ceremonial practices and used Ayahuasca, a drink used for spiritual purposes by Amazonian tribes, once during a retreat in Peru.

Allan said using these drugs has helped him to work through the issues he had with his own mother growing up. As a child, Allan often felt that his mother was detached and that having children disrupted the lifestyle she actually wanted. When he was a teenager, Allan’s mother changed gears and became more religious, and more controlling.

As a result of his experience, Allan said he was at times smothering to his 8-year-old son, because of his mother’s aloofness. At other times, he was detached in response to her controlling behaviors.

He said psychedelics have helped him to find an even ground with his child.

“When you do that internal work with the help of psychedelics, you can heal from childhood wounds,” Allan said, “and make your parenting decisions with love and empathy.”

https://www.businessinsider.com/how-psychedelics-like-mushrooms-lsd-help-parents-relate-to-kids-2019-10

Within four hours of a traumatic experience, certain physiological markers—namely, sweating—are higher in people who go on to develop posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to a new study by a researcher at Case Western Reserve University and other institutions.

Around 90% of people who experience a traumatic event do not develop PTSD, according to existing data and research, making the medical community eager for better insights into the 10% who do—and for how to best treat these patients.

The study, conducted at Atlanta’s Grady Memorial Hospital, found that micro perspirations—detected non-invasively by a mobile device in an emergency department—can be plugged into a new mathematical model developed by the researchers to help predict who may be more at risk for developing PTSD.

The findings are especially important for targeting early treatment efforts and prevention of the disorder, said Alex Rothbaum, a pre-doctoral researcher in the Department of Psychological Sciences in the College of Arts and Sciences at Case Western Reserve.

“With PTSD, there is a need for more reliable and immediate patient information, especially in situations where research suggests people may underreport their own symptoms, such as with men, and those who live in violent neighborhoods or are on active duty,” said Rothbaum, a co-author of the study, which was published in the journal Chronic Stress.

“While skin is always secreting sweat, our method can discern meaningful, actionable information from perspirations too small for the naked eye to see,” he added.

The measurement differs from traditional practices to diagnose PTSD, which look for psychological differences in patients based on self-reported data and clusters of symptoms defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (often referred to as the DSM) published by the American Psychiatric Association.

“Eventually, this finding may help contribute to changes in how we diagnose and treat PTSD, pointing us toward which patients would do better in therapy, with medication, or a combination of the two—or no treatment at all,” said Rothbaum.

New testing device: less expensive, more accessible
Researchers hope the PTSD test can become available and standard in emergency departments, aided by the recent development of a practical and inexpensive device that can plug into common tablets and can measure “skin conductance response”—a measure of sweating.

Before, such tests could only be conducted on a large stand-alone machine costing upwards of $10,000. While the new device lacks the sensitivity of its more expensive counterpart, the readings it provides can be used to determine who should continue with additional testing and who is not at risk for developing PTSD.

The study—which included nearly 100 patients—was prompted, in part, by recent research showing the ineffectiveness of current methods practiced with patients immediately after traumas, known as critical incident stress debriefing and psychological debriefing.

Both the new method and model created by researchers will need to be further validated by a larger study underway with a National Institutes of Health grant.

The research
The study was co-authored with researchers at Emory University School of Medicine: Rebecca Hinrichs, Sanne J. H. van Rooij, Jennifer Stevens, Jessica Maples-Keller and Barbara O. Rothbaum; Vasiliki Michopoulos of Emory and Yerkes National Primate Research Center; Katharina Schultebraucks and Isaac Galatzer-Levy of New York University School of Medicine; Sterling Winters of Wayne State University; Tanja Jovanovic of Emory and Wayne State; and Kerry J. Ressler of Emory and Harvard/ McLean Hospital.

The research was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health and a Brain and Behavior Research Foundation NARSAD Independent Investigator Award.

Sweating is a clue into who develops PTSD—and who doesn’t

Indigenous children in Australia who live in families that experienced forced separations in much of the twentieth century are more likely than other Indigenous children to have poor health and negative school experiences, according to a landmark government report released this month.

As many as one in three Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were taken from their families and communities between 1910 and the 1970s, under racist government policies that tried to force Aboriginal people to assimilate with white Australians. The children were brought up in institutions or foster homes, or were adopted by white families. The Australian government formally apologized to members of these ‘Stolen Generations’ in 2008.

In the latest report, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, a government-funded statistics agency, used existing data from surveys of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to conduct the first national study of how the forced separations have affected children in subsequent generations. Previous reports looked at the impacts of these policies on the Stolen Generations themselves, and on their adult descendants.

“What all of this work around Stolen Generations is showing is that compared to other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the Stolen Generations and their descendants are far worse off,” says Richard Weston, a descendant of the Meriam people from the Torres Strait, and chief executive of the Healing Foundation in Canberra, a government-funded organization that is working towards healing for the Stolen Generations and their descendants, and which commissioned the report. “Trauma stays with people, and its impacts are far-reaching and they’re profound,” says Weston.

Mostly worse off
The report examined health, cultural and socio-economic measures for about 7,900 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children under the age of 15 who were living in households with at least one member of the Stolen Generations. These measures were compared with those of about 40,800 Indigenous children whose households included no adults who had been removed from their families as children. The relationships between the children and the members of the Stolen Generation in their households were not reported.

The analysis showed that 17.2% of Indigenous children living in Stolen Generations households reported having missed school without permission in the previous year, compared with 4.1% of the reference group. Children in Stolen Generation families were also nearly twice as likely to report having been “treated unfairly” at school because they were Indigenous, and 26% of Indigenous children living in Stolen Generations households rated their health as poor, compared with 19.2% of the comparison population.

Children living in Stolen Generations households were also 1.8 times as likely to have experienced stress in the previous 12 months, and 60% less likely to live in a home owned by a household member.

The analysis also considered the effects of other factors on the children’s health and socio-economic measures irrespective of whether they lived in a Stolen Generations household, such as age and gender, and whether the children lived in a remote area or in a household with someone who was employed, had completed school or had been incarcerated. The results show that removal has intergenerational effects even after controlling for these factors.

The report concludes that children living in a Stolen Generations household were more likely to experience adverse outcomes than were other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and that this “demonstrates a transfer of intergenerational poverty and trauma”.

“The results from the survey show how much suffering is still being endured from these policies,” says Maggie Walter, a Palawa woman from Tasmania and a sociologist at the University of Tasmania in Hobart. “It is ricocheting through generations.”

But the report did find that Indigenous children living in Stolen Generations households were twice as likely as Indigenous children not living in these households to identify with a clan, tribal or language group, and to recognize an area as homeland.

Weston says this could suggest that cultural identity has been a source of strength and resilience for members of the Stolen Generations.

Although Walters thinks the report shines a light on the difficulties these children face, she worries that focusing on households will inadvertently place the blame on them. “The risk with all of these things is that somehow it becomes Aboriginal families’ and communities’ fault that they are still living with the repercussions of those dreadful policies,” she says. “What we need to be looking at is wider social and cultural reality in which that family, both current and previous generations, have lived their lives.”

Addressing trauma
Weston thinks the trauma caused by racist policies such as the forced removal of children is the root cause of the fact that Indigenous Australians, on average, die about ten years earlier than non-Indigenous Australians. Studies of the effects of childhood trauma in the United States show that it can increase the risk of substance misuse and mental and physical ill-health, and can limit employment opportunities.

But Weston says government initiatives are not adequately addressing trauma, and this is why, despite numerous policies over the past ten years, the life expectancy of Indigenous Australians has yet to improve significantly. The government acknowledges that the country is not on track to meet its goal of closing the life-expectancy gap by 2031.

Some researchers are also worried that the trauma is being repeated today, in Indigenous children who are being removed from their families under state child-welfare laws. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children represented 5.5% of Australian children under 18 in 2016–17, but 36.9% of all children placed in out-of-home care.

Walter says it is a contradiction for governments to say that they want to improve Indigenous life expectancy when Indigenous children are still being placed in out-of-home care. Removing children from their communities is contributing to these gaps, she says.

Although government policies state that Indigenous children should be placed with their extended family or families in their community before non-Indigenous carers, this isn’t always possible.

The high proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care is a concern, says Ken Wyatt, a Noongar, Yamatji and Wongi man and the country’s minister for Indigenous Australians. Although child-protection systems are the responsibility of states and territories, Wyatt says, the national government is working to address the underlying factors that contribute to children being placed in out-of-home care, including intergenerational trauma.

Nature 570, 423-424 (2019)

doi: 10.1038/d41586-019-01948-3

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-01948-3?utm_source=Nature+Briefing&utm_campaign=611c8134ee-briefing-dy-20190626&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_c9dfd39373-611c8134ee-44039353

Exposure to early life trauma can lead to poor physical and mental health in some individuals, which can be passed on to their children. Studies in mice show that at least some of the effects of stress can be transmitted to offspring via environmentally-induced changes in sperm miRNA levels.

A new epigenetics study raises the possibility that the same is true in humans. It shows for the first time that the levels of the same two sperm miRNAs change in both men and mice exposed to early life stress. In mice, the negative effects of stress are transmitted to offspring. The study is published On May 23rd in Translational Psychiatry.

“The study raises the possibility that some of the vulnerability of children is due to Lamarckian type inheritance derived from their parents’ experiences,” said Larry Feig, Ph.D., professor of Developmental, Molecular and Chemical Biology at Tufts University School of Medicine and member of the Cell, Molecular and Developmental Biology and Neuroscience programs at the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences at Tufts.

The human part of the study utilized the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) questionnaire as an indicator of men’s early life trauma. The ACE Study questionnaire includes 10 yes or no questions about one’s experiences until the age of 18, including physical, verbal, or sexual abuse, and physical or emotional neglect. Other questions relate to one’s family members. Four or more yes answers put one at significantly increased risk for future mental and physical health problems. According to a ChildTrends research brief published in 2014, a remarkably high percentage (~10 percent) of the population report scores at or above this cutoff.

miRNAs constitute a newly appreciated type of gene regulator, where each miRNA controls a distinct set of genes. Until recently, sperm from fathers were thought to contribute only DNA to the mother’s egg upon fertilization, but new data in mice indicate that sperm also contribute miRNAs that influence the next generation. Sperm miRNA expression in humans is known to be affected by environmental factors, such as smoking and obesity, but no human study to date has documented the effects of stress.

The new study found that among 28 Caucasian male volunteers, the expression of two highly related sperm miRNAs, miR-449 and miR-34, were inversely proportional to the men’s ACE scores. Men with the most extensive early abuse (highest ACE scores) had as much as a 300-fold reduction in the two sperm miRNAs compared to men with the least abuse.

The idea that these changes can affect the next generation is supported by additional findings in the study, e.g.:

the same sperm miRNA changes that take place in men with high ACE scores also occur in mice exposed to early life social instability stress, which Feig’s lab has shown previously leads to anxiety and sociability defects in female offspring of stressed males for at least three generations;
these two sets of miRNAs are known to work together in mice to allow proper development of the brain and sperm;
in humans, miR-34c has been implicated in promoting early embryo development;
the mouse studies showed that the decline in these sperm miRNA levels is transmitted to the next generation; and
when these embryos mature, these miRNAs are also reduced in the sperm of their male offspring who pass on stress behaviors to their female offspring.
“This is the first study to show that stress is associated with altered levels of sperm miRNAs in humans. We are currently setting up a new, larger study in men, and additional experiments in mice that could yield further support for the idea that changes in these sperm miRNAs do, in fact, contribute to an elevation of stress-related disorders across generations,” said David Dickson, an M.D./Ph.D. student at Tufts and first author of the study.

“Looking to the future, we may be able to figure out a way to restore the low miRNA levels found in men exposed to extreme trauma, because epigenetic changes, such as stress-induced decreases in sperm miRNA expression, are reversible, unlike genetic changes that alter the DNA sequence,” Dickson added.

For example, obesity has been shown to alter specific sperm miRNA levels in men, while bariatric surgery and subsequent weight loss can reverse the changes. In addition, Isabelle Mansuy’s lab has reversed some of the negative effects of stress in mice across generations by exposing mice to an “enriched environment” that involves extensive social interactions, exercise and opportunities to explore their surroundings.

Feig pointed out that in addition to focusing on the potential transgenerational effects of stress, there is a growing appreciation that physicians should collect information on childhood trauma for the sake of the patients who are experiencing this early trauma.

This is because “childhood abuse, trauma and dysfunction adds to the risk of future physical and psychiatric maladies, and significant exposure to abusive and/or dysfunctional families is remarkably common. Moreover, sensitivity to PTSD has been shown to correlate with ACE score, implying the ACE questionnaire could be used as a screening tool to identify people who should take extra precaution to avoid potentially traumatic experiences,” he said.

“However, some people may not answer the ACE survey accurately due to inaccurate recall or because of the sensitive nature of many of the questions, particularly in settings that do not allow anonymity and/or where their answers could affect their future. Thus, discovery of unbiased markers for early trauma, like specific sperm miRNA content, could complement ACE surveys in some clinical settings to bolster preventative medicine,” he concluded.

The authors note that the relatively small sample size limits their ability to more deeply explore the association between ACE scores and miRNA expression. In addition, a longitudinal study with information on behavioral and psychological factors throughout adulthood, with repeated measurements of sperm miRNA content, could allow for further exploration on the effect of cumulative exposure to childhood trauma on miRNA.

Additional authors are Jessica Paulus, Sc.D., Tufts Medical Center as well as Tufts University School of Medicine and the Sackler School; Virginia Mensah, M.D., formerly in Feig’s lab with Women & Infants Hospital and the Warren Alpert Medical School at Brown University and now with the Reproductive Science Center of New Jersey; Janis Lem, Ph.D., Tufts Medical Center; Lorena Saavedra-Rodriguez, Ph.D., formerly a postdoctoral fellow in Feig’s laboratory at Tufts and now with a biopharmaceutical company; and Adrienne Gentry, D.O. and Kelly Pagidas, M.D., University of Louisville School of Medicine.

This study was supported by awards from the National Institute of Mental Health of the National Institutes of Health (R01MH107536), as well as the Tufts Center for Neuroscience Research (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke of the NIH, P30NS047243). The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health or other funders.

Dickson, D.A., Paulus, J.K., Mensah, V., Lem, J., Saavedra-Rodriguez, L., Gentry, A., Pagidas, K., and Feig, L. A. (2018). Reduced levels of miRNAs 449 and 34 in sperm of mice and men exposed to early life stress. Translational Psychiatry. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41398-018-0146-2

https://now.tufts.edu/news-releases/early-life-trauma-men-associated-reduced-levels-sperm-micrornas

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Researchers reported on Monday in the journal JAMA Neurology that dementia was a possible complication following concussion even if the patient did not lose consciousness.

Scientists from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) tracked more than one-third of a million American veterans, and found that the likelihood of dementia more than doubled following concussion.

After adjusting for age, sex, race, education and other health conditions, they found that concussion without loss of consciousness led to 2.36 times the risk for dementia.

According to the study, these risks were slightly elevated for those in the loss-of-consciousness bracket (2.51 times) and were nearly four times higher (3.77 times) for those with the more serious moderate-to-severe traumatic brain injury.

In the total of 357,558 participants, whose average age was 49, half had been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury, of which 54 percent had concussion. The study followed participants for an average of 4.2 years, and 91 percent were male and 72 percent were white.

“There are several mechanisms that may explain the association between traumatic brain injury and dementia,” said the study’s senior author Kristine Yaffe, professor with the UCSF departments of neurology, psychiatry, and epidemiology and biostatistics.

“There’s something about trauma that may hasten the development of neurodegenerative conditions. One theory is that brain injury induces or accelerates the accumulation of abnormal proteins that lead to neuronal death associated with conditions like Alzheimer’s disease,” said Yaffe.

“It’s also possible that trauma leaves the brain more vulnerable to other injuries or aging processes,” said Yaffe, “but we need more work in this area.”

http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2018-05/08/c_137162226.htm

by Tori Rodriguez, MA, LPC

While the top risk factor for completed suicide is a history of previous attempts, childhood trauma and impulsivity have also been found to increase the risk of suicidality in adults (1,2). However, there have been few investigations into whether these 2 variables influence each other in their association with suicidal ideation and attempts.

Prior research has linked childhood trauma with increased frequency of a range of psychiatric disorders, such as depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, panic disorder, and substance abuse.1 Additionally, a correlation between impulsivity and risky behaviors — including suicidality — has been found, and research published in 2014 discovered higher levels of impulsivity among patients with a self-reported history of at least 1 suicide attempt, compared to those with no reported previous attempts (3).

“People with histories of childhood trauma often develop difficulties with managing negative emotion, coping with stress, and maintaining optimism in the face of life stressors,” Lisa Cohen, PhD, a professor of psychiatry at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Beth Israel in New York, told Psychiatry Advisor. “Impulsivity is a risk factor for all types of reckless behavior, including suicidal behavior,” she added.

Dr Cohen and others, including lead author Laura DeRubeis, a doctoral student at Adelphi University in New York, recently sought to determine whether impulsivity mediates the relationship between childhood trauma and suicidality in a sample of 113 adult inpatients (4). They hypothesized that after impulsivity was controlled for, childhood trauma would no longer predict suicidality at a statistically significant level.

As part of a larger investigation, participants were administered several questionnaires: the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire (CTQ), a Likert-type scale that measures emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, as well as emotional and physical neglect; the Barratt Impulsiveness Scale (BIS-11) and the Behavioral Activation Scale (BAS) of the Behavioral Inhibition and Activation Scales (collectively known as BIS/BAS, not to be confused with the BIS-11); and select items from the Columbia Suicide Severity Rating Scale (C-SSRS) to assess ideation and attempts.

According to the results, which were presented at the 2016 Annual Meeting of the American Psychiatric (APA) in Atlanta, Georgia, both childhood trauma and impulsivity had independent effects on suicidal ideation. However, childhood trauma was found to have an independent association with suicide attempts, while impulsivity was not. “We expected childhood trauma to influence suicidal ideation and attempts through a pathway of impulsivity, so that trauma leads to impulsivity which then leads to suicidal ideation and attempts,” explains Dr Cohen. Instead, they found that impulsivity was only related to suicidal ideation, and when childhood trauma was controlled for, impulsivity no longer predicted attempts.

Though these findings are in line with previous data on the correlation between childhood trauma, impulsivity, and suicidal ideation, they contradict the hypothesis of the current study as well as results of other studies suggesting that impulsivity is a risk factor for suicide attempts. “Childhood trauma seems to have a potent independent effect on both suicidal ideation and suicidal attempts,” the authors concluded in their paper.

References

1. O’Brien BS, Sher L. Child sexual abuse and the pathophysiology of suicide in adolescents and adults. Int J Adolesc Med Health. 2013;25(3):201-205.

2. Wedig MM, Silverman MH, Frankenburg FR, Reich DB, Fitzmaurice G, Zanarini MC. Predictors of suicide attempts in patients with borderline personality disorder over 16 years of prospective follow-up. Psychol Med. 2012;42(11):2395-2404.

3. Mccullumsmith CB, Williamson DJ, May RS, A, Bruer EH, Sheehan DV, Alphs LD. Simple measures of hopelessness and impulsivity are associated with acute suicidal ideation and attempts in patients in psychiatric crisis. Innov Clin Neurosci. 2014;11(9-10): 47-53.

4. DeRubeis L, Kim KHS, Ardalan F, Tanis T, Galynker I, Cohen L. The relationship between childhood trauma, impulsivity, and suicidality in an inpatient sample. Poster presentation at: 2016 Annual Meeting of the American Psychiatric Association; May 14-18, 2016; Atlanta, GA. Young Investigators’ New Research 1–017.

http://www.psychiatryadvisor.com/apa-2016-coverage/apa-2016-research-found-impulsivity-without-childhood-trauma-did-not-predict-suicide-attempts/article/497331/

Our brain’s ability to process information and adapt effectively is dependent on a number of factors, including genes, nutrition, and life experiences. These life experiences wield particular influence over the brain during a few sensitive periods when our most important muscle is most likely to undergo physical, chemical, and functional remodeling.

According to Tara Swart, a neuroscientist and senior lecturer at MIT, your “terrible twos” and those turbulent teen years are when the brain’s wiring is most malleable. As a result, traumatic experiences that occur during these time periods can alter brain activity and ultimately change gene expressions—sometimes for good.

Throughout the first two years of life, the brain develops at a rapid pace. However, around the second year, something important happens—babies begin to speak.

“We start to understand speech first, then we start to articulate speech ourselves and that’s a really complex thing that goes on in the brain,” Swart, who conducts ongoing research on the brain and how it affects how we become leaders, told Quartz. “Additionally, children start to walk—so from a physical point of view, that’s also a huge achievement for the brain.

Learning and understanding a new language forces your brain to work in new ways, connecting neurons and forming new pathways. This is a mentally taxing process, which is why learning a new language or musical instrument often feels exhausting.

With so many important changes happening to the brain in such a short period of time, physical or emotional trauma can cause potentially momentous interruptions to neurological development. Even though you won’t have any memories of the interruptions (most people can’t remember much before age five), any kind of traumatic event—whether it’s abuse, neglect, ill health, or separation from your loved ones—can lead to lasting behavioral and cognitive deficits later in life, warns Swart.

To make her point, Swart points to numerous studies on orphans in Romania during the 1980s and 1990s. After the nation’s communist regime collapsed, an economic decline swept throughout the region and 100,000 children found themselves in harsh, overcrowded government institutions.

“[The children] were perfectly well fed, clothed, washed, but for several reasons—one being that people didn’t want to spread germs—they were never cuddled or played with,” explains Swart. “There was a lot of evidence that these children grew up with some mental health problems and difficulty holding down jobs and staying in relationships.”

Swart continues: “When brain scanning became possible, they scanned the brains of these children who had grown up into adults and showed that they had issues in the limbic system, the part of the brain [that controls basic emotions].”

In short, your ability to maintain proper social skills and develop a sense of empathy is largely dependent on the physical affection, eye contact, and playtime of those early years. Even something as simple as observing facial expressions and understanding what those expressions mean is tied to your wellbeing as a toddler.

The research also found that the brains of the Romanian orphans had lower observable brain activity and were physically smaller than average. As a result, researchers concluded that children adopted into loving homes by age two have a much better chance of recovering from severe emotional trauma or disturbances.

The teenage years

By the time you hit your teenage years, the brain has typically reached its adult weight of about three pounds. Around this same time, the brain is starting to eliminate, or “prune” fragile connections and unused neural pathways. The process is similar to how one would prune a garden—cutting back the deadwood allows other plants to thrive.

During this period, the brain’s frontal lobes, especially the prefrontal cortex, experience increased activity and, for the first time, the brain is capable of comparing and analyzing several complex concepts at once. Similar to a baby learning how to speak, this period in an adolescent’s life is marked by a need for increasingly advanced communication skills and emotional maturity.

“At that age, they’re starting to become more understanding of social relationships and politics. It’s really sophisticated,” Swart noted. All of this brain activity is also a major reason why teenagers need so much sleep.

Swart’s research dovetails with the efforts of many other scientists who have spent decades attempting to understand how the brain develops, and when. The advent of MRIs and other brain-scanning technology has helped speed along this research, but scientists are still working to figure out what exactly the different parts of the brain do.

What is becoming more certain, however, is the importance of stability and safety in human development, and that such stability is tied to cognitive function. At any point in time, a single major interruption has the ability to throw off the intricate workings of our brain. We may not really understand how these events affect our lives until much later.

http://qz.com/470751/your-brain-is-particularly-vulnerable-to-trauma-at-two-distinct-ages/