Children exposed to potentially traumatic experiences including family violence and abuses are at risk for a serious stress disorder. Harvard researchers interviewed 337 children, aged 6 to 12 years, to assess the impact that domestic violence and other forms of traumatic experiences had on children. They found that almost 25% of children exposed to potentially traumatic events including violence within and outside the family had symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD usually occurs when a person has been through a life-threatening event, after which they often re-experience the horror of the event and will try to avoid activities that remind them of their experience.
Interestingly, the death or illness of a loved one was most likely to cause symptoms of PTSD in children. But violence within the family, along with having witnessed a violent crime such as mugging, rape or murder outside the family, also contributed to the development of a serious stress disorder. The only potentially traumatic events that did not seem to produce any lasting psychological harm were accidents such as car accidents or seeing someone drown, to which children seemed fairly resilient. Of those children who had symptoms of PTSD, 83% came from a violent home and 19% reported seeing their mother abused by their father or stepfather. But over one third of children who had symptoms of PTSD had themselves been abused by their father or stepfather. This is a sign that being the target of someone's abuse is even more psychologically harmful than seeing someone else in the family being abused, the researchers suggest. Children who suffered from PTSD were likely to have other psychological disorders, such as irrational fears and significant anxiety when left alone.
The Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry January 2000;39:108-115.
COMMENT: It is most interesting that stressors that are perceived as accidents (car accidents or drowning) had far less long-term impact than an equally devastating physical problem but one which was done voluntarily by another individual. Emotional stressors are probably the largest contributor to chronic disease, at least from the perspective of the patients that visit me; and I suspect that they are fairly representative of the population at large.
This year, I learned that one of the major ways that stress impairs health is by negatively influencing adrenal function. Fortunately, there are some fairly powerful techniques that can correct this. At a simple level, one can measure salivary hormone levels and then address lifestyle issues and use sublingual DHEA and pregnenolone to help restore adrenal balance. At a far deeper level, advanced psychoemotional work like I discuss in Applied PsychoNeurobiology on my web site in the article section is a far deeper level of healing. However, the deepest level of healing is prayer. This is NOT church attendance or some religious affiliation, but a deep and genuine communication with our Creator. The most powerful force in the universe is more than capable of restoring one to health. It is unfortunate that most of us do not have a prayer life that achieves this and thus we need to rely on more primitive healing techniques. I must stress that these techniques are not mutually exclusive and can be and should be used concurrently.