New Study Explores Complex Trauma and Association with Future Mental Health Illnesses

The results of new study investigating the different types of trauma and whether they confer a risk of mental illness in the future has been released. The pioneering research, which was published in the “British Journal of Psychiatry,” was conducted by researchers from King’s College London.

The researchers looked into the theory suggesting that traumas involving interpersonal violence that occurs repetitively at an early age could depict a damaging type of trauma known as complex trauma. The participants who took part in the study were recruited from the E-Risk study. This study tracks the development of more than 2,200 children who were born in Wales and England between 1994 and 1995.

Each participant underwent evaluation for exposure to noncomplex traumas such as car accidents, complex trauma exposure such as repeated child abuse, cognitive function and mental health issues. The researchers discovered that when young individuals who hadn’t been exposed to traumas were compared with  those who had been exposed to noncomplex traumas, those who had been exposed to complex traumas had more severe cognitive impairments and mental health issues. These issues were observed across several cognitive domains and mental health conditions.

In addition, the researchers also discovered that early childhood vulnerabilities that had been measured when the participants were aged five forecasted later exposure to complex traumas. These vulnerabilities could also be used to explain the links between cognitive impairments and complex trauma exposure. However, these vulnerabilities couldn’t be used to predict exposure to noncomplex traumas.

Prof. Andrea Danese, a professor of child and adolescent psychiatry from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College, stated that the discovery highlighted that not all difficulties experienced by individuals who had been exposed to complex traumas were automatically brought about by the exposure. She explained that the preexistent vulnerabilities that grew the risk of exposure to complex traumas could also be responsible for cognitive impairments, adding that physicians should work towards addressing vulnerabilities in their plans and refrain from making assumptions in their formulations.

In their report, the researchers noted that they also discovered that early childhood vulnerabilities didn’t explain mental health conditions associated with complex trauma. This discovery suggests that responses to the trauma, including blaming oneself, as well as features of the trauma, including its severity, could cause mental health disorders to develop.

More research is needed to better understand the underlying mechanisms, as well as aid in the development of new and more efficacious interventions for the mental issues experienced by individuals exposed to complex traumas.

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