How childhood trauma affects health across a lifetime

A person abused as a child may appear to lead a relatively normal life in various respects. But they can also struggle in a range of ways which are often undetected and which are frequently debilitating. The negative impacts of unresolved childhood trauma on both physical and emotional health in adulthood have been established unequivocally and need to be emphasised. (Lanius & Shonkoff, 2012).

While some survivors are more able to hide their suffering than others, they, too, can experience complex mental and physical health impairments as well as psychosocial challenges. Childhood trauma and abuse survivors frequently adopt behaviours and coping mechanisms which while initially protective may be harmful in the medium to long term if the underlying trauma is not resolved. Coping strategies can include alcohol abuse, drug abuse, eating disorders and overeating, and smoking. Risk taking behaviour – engaged in to alleviate intolerable inner experience – can also lead adult survivors to encounters with the criminal justice system.

The resultant effects of such behaviours include mental health issues, medical problems (lung and heart disease -smoking, obesity- diet, liver disease- substance abuse related, suicide); social problems (criminal convictions and jail sentences); and economic problems (loss of income, gambling debt) to name a few.