Past Trauma Linked with Changes in Brain

As research offers more insight into the connection between the mind and the body, scholars and scientists are learning more about how stressful and traumatic events create a lasting change in key areas of the brain.  According to a recent CBC News report, people who were traumatized, even very early in life, can experience changes in the brain that may alter emotional responses and influence mental health decades later. 

Trauma and stress negatively affect the amygdala and hippocampus; regions of the brain associated with depression or anxiety.  Researchers at the University of Alberta were able to link brain changes with a history of trauma that occurred among participants with major depressive disorder who were recruited for their new study.  Using high-resolution MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) researchers were able to map tiny changes in the brain caused by trauma or maltreatment in childhood and study the effect of new treatments that could increase nerve regrowth in these areas.  Growing research into the use of psychedelics suggests that stress-related brain changes that cause adults to have difficulty coping with stress and be more vulnerable to depression could be reversed. 

By being able to pinpoint the areas of the brain where changes due to early trauma occurred, researchers will be able to more accurately test therapies to help these regions function properly  – hopefully leading to improved treatments for anxiety and mood disorders.   Researchers suggest that trauma contributing to changes in brain development is cumulative; and the more trauma a person experiences, the more it is likely to affect the development in certain areas of the brain.  These changes in brain development helps to explain why some people may be more susceptible to depression or anxiety later in life. 

Depression in older adults is not a normal part of aging, and if left untreated geriatric depression can reduce quality of life and increase the risk of suicide.  According to Healthline Media, traumatic life events can contribute to depression and be worsened by aging issues including isolation, limited mobility, chronic health problems, the loss of loved ones, retirement, financial hardships or substance abuse.  

With so many people experiencing stress, anxiety and depression, even among those who were not having issues before the pandemic, developing more tools to diagnose and treat mental health problems will be highly valuable in the future.  Armed with a better understanding of how traumatic events can lead to lasting brain changes, therapists and doctors will be better equipped to manage ongoing mental health concerns long past the end of the pandemic.