A new study conducted reveals that exposure to stress during early life can lead to an increased risk for development of mental health problems during adolescence. It therefore, highlights the need for a counseling for children subjected to trauma during their early stages of growth.
Several studies have established a relationship between abuse, neglect, or loss of a parent with an increased risk of developing attachment disorders. These children display a tendency of manifesting some types of behavioral and emotional disorders later during their childhood. These include attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder; conduct disorders, anxiety, depression, suicide, drug abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder.
The researchers were able to rear rhesus macaque monkeys with a one-time stress exposure, followed by rearing in a very stable social environment, to prove the importance of stress in shaping up social behavior.
The findings provide strong evidence that stress exposure early in life can have dramatic, long-lasting effects that persist into the teenage years and perhaps even adulthood. 16 small social groups of monkeys were studied for a three-year period. Certain monkeys were separated from their mothers to induce or simulate an early stress event and were later allowed to be raised in stable social groups with other monkeys.
Adolescent monkeys who had experienced maternal separation at 1 month old continued to show significantly more time in social contact compared to monkeys not experiencing the stress of early maternal separation. They developed a "freezing" behavior in response to fearful stimuli, characteristic of increased anxiety in humans. An in-depth analysis of animal behavior will probably serve to highlight the influence of stress on predicting the behavioral pattern of an individual.
It is not known at the present regarding the increase in the expression of anxious behaviors in individuals experiencing early-life stress during puberty. Another issue that needs addressing is whether children experiencing early life stress, have delayed puberty.
Girls experiencing sexual abuse early in life have been reported to go through puberty at earlier ages than non-abused girls. It could be quite possible that early puberty onset may not be a response to all types of early-life stress, but may be more specific to girls experiencing early sexual abuse.
With such studies demonstrating the devastating consequences of early life stress, may be it is time for us to have a closer look at the issues of divorce, maternal separation, sexual abuse, and neglect etc. faced by young children.