Among more than 18,000 adults in 10 countries, the researchers found that those who said they had faced childhood adversities such as abuse, death of a parent, or a parent’s alcohol or drug abuse had a higher chance of getting heart disease, arthritis, asthma, diabetes and other conditions. Similar pattern was seen among people who said they had suffered from depression, anxiety or other mental health conditions before the age of 21.
Though the findings did not prove that serious stresses in childhood would directly cause poor physical health later on, there were a few reasons behind the link between the two.
According to researchers, early adverse experiences could affect people’s behavior and lifestyle. Some people might just adopt smoking, drinking or over-eating as a way of dealing with the stresses. Likewise, young people with depression or other mental disorders might use smoking or drinking as a way to self-medicate. It is possible that severe childhood stress might have more direct biological effects.
Meanwhile, participants reported at least 3 childhood adversities had a higher risk of all 6 physical health problems that were assessed in the study. They had twice the risk of heart disease, compared with men and women with no adversities.
Similar results were seen among adults who said they had mental health conditions, especially depression, post-traumatic stress disorder or panic disorders, before the age of 21. Their risks of heart disease, asthma, arthritis and chronic back pain or headaches were between 43 percent and 66 percent higher than risks in adults with no early mental health disorders. Current psychological status, however, did not appear to account for the link.