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Childhood trauma linked to higher rates of mental health problems

June 9, 2011 - Washington

A new study has found that children's risk for learning, behaviour problems and Obesity is linked to the level of trauma they were exposed to in their childhood.

The findings could encourage physicians to consider diagnosing post-traumatic stress disorder rather than attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, which has similar symptoms to PTSD but very different treatment.

The study examined children living in a violent, low-income neighbourhood and documented an unexpectedly strong link between abuse, trauma and neglect and the children's mental and physical health.

It reported, for instance, that children experiencing four types of trauma were 30 times more likely to have behaviour and learning problems than those not exposed to trauma.

"In communities where there is violence, where children are exposed to events such as shootings in their neighbourhoods, kids experience a constant environmental threat," senior author Victor Carrion, MD, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioural sciences at Stanford, said.

"Contrary to some people's belief, these children don't get used to trauma. These events remain stressful and impact children's physiology," he said.

The findings provide compelling evidence that paediatricians should routinely screen children for trauma exposures, said Carrion, who is also a child psychiatrist at Packard Children's.

"As simple as it may seem, physicians do not ask about trauma. And kids get the wrong diagnoses," he stated.

The new study has been published online in Child Abuse and Neglect; The International Journal.


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