PTSD and Childhood Trauma

10 Questions Some Doctors Are Afraid To Ask

Mar 3, 2015

Imagine that the next time you go in for a physical, you're told there's a new tool that can estimate your risk for many of the major health problems that affect Americans: heart disease, diabetes, depression, addiction, just to name a few.

It's not a crystal ball, but might hint at your vulnerability to disease and mental illness — long before you start smoking or drinking, gain a lot of weight, develop high blood pressure or actually get sick.

And all you have to do is answer 10 yes-or-no questions about your childhood:

Can Family Secrets Make You Sick?

Mar 3, 2015

In the 1980s, Dr. Vincent Felitti, now director of the California Institute of Preventive Medicine in San Diego, discovered something potentially revolutionary about the ripple effects of child sexual abuse. He discovered it while trying to solve a very different health problem: helping severely obese people lose weight.

When you ask people what impacts health you'll get a lot of different answers: Access to good health care and preventative services, personal behavior, exposure to germs or pollution and stress. But if you dig a little deeper you'll find a clear dividing line, and it boils down to one word: money.

Some recall getting burned. Others say they've been strangled or attacked by dogs. Many suffer from depression and anxiety. These are only a small sampling of what tens of millions modern slaves endure daily, researchers in London reported Wednesday.

The study, published in The Lancet Global Health, is the largest one, so far, to detail the mental and physical health of people who have survived human trafficking.

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Negative childhood experiences can set our brains to constantly feel danger and fear says psychiatrist and traumatic stress expert Bessel van der Kolk. He's the author of the recently published book, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma.


Side Effects Public Media is a reporting collaborative focused on public health.  Find more of our reporting on childhood trauma and PTSD here.

A  report by the University of San Diego School of Law found that about 686,000 children were victims of abuse and neglect in 2013. Traumatic childhood events can lead to mental health and behavioral problems later in life, explains psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk, author of the recently published book, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma

Children’s brains are literally shaped by traumatic experiences, which can lead to problems with anger, addiction, and even criminal activity in adulthood, says van der Kolk. Side Effects contributing producer Barbara Lewis spoke with him about his book. 

People in Cambodia experience what we Americans call depression. But there's no direct translation for the word "depression" in the Cambodian Khmer language. Instead, people may say thelea tdeuk ceut, which literally means "the water in my heart has fallen."

Anxious or depressed Haitians, on the other hand, may use the phrase reflechi twop, which means "thinking too much." And in parts of Nepal and India, people use the English word "tension."

StoryCorps' Military Voices Initiative records stories from those who have served since 9/11 and their loved ones.

Stefanie Pelkey, 39, is a former Army captain. Her husband, Michael, served in Iraq as an Army captain in 2003 and struggled when he returned.

"When he came back, he wasn't the same person that left. His light was gone. That's the only way I know how to say it," she says. "He just didn't joke around anymore. He had a lot of anxiety. He'd shake his legs a lot while he was sitting there talking, like, he'd tap his feet a lot.

Laws intended to protect children from abuse and neglect are not being properly enforced, and the federal government is to blame. That's according to a study by the Children's Advocacy Institute at the University of San Diego School of Law, which says children are suffering as a result.

The numbers are grim. Almost 680,000 children in the United States were the victims of abuse and neglect in 2013. More than 1,500 of them died.

Most of us don't remember our first two or three years of life — but our earliest experiences may stick with us for years and continue to influence us well into adulthood.

Just how they influence us and how much is a question that researchers are still trying to answer. Two studies look at how parents' behavior in those first years affects life decades later, and how differences in children's temperament play a role.

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In the summer of 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics announced that it would be establishing the Center on Healthy, Resilient Children, an educational and service organization to help children who experience toxic stress.

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