The Link Between Childhood Trauma and Depression During Adulthood

If you or someone you know needs immediate assistance, call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by dialing 988. If you or someone you know is in immediate danger of self-harm, call 911. 

Childhood should be a happy and carefree time, however, that isn’t the case for everyone. Childhood trauma, when left untreated, is extremely damaging and can have long-lasting effects well into adulthood. 

Many adults with unresolved childhood trauma suffer from self-esteem issues, relationship problems, as well as physical health problems due to the stress and strain of such an experience and unhealthy coping mechanisms. Recent studies have also found a link between childhood trauma and depression and suicidal ideation in adults as well as other mental illnesses. 

What is Childhood Trauma?

Trauma isn’t just the physical event that occurs, but the emotional response to a traumatizing event. It can be something that happens to you or something that you witness happening to someone else and threatens your feelings of safety and security. It can also be an event that happens once, such as a natural disaster, or it can be a series of experiences over time. Some examples of trauma include domestic violence, physical or sexual abuse, neglect, community violence, and grief-related trauma. 

Most traumatic experiences for children are the result of broken trust, when the adult in their life does something to break their trust and make them feel unsafe. When this trust is broken, it puts you into a constant state of stress response commonly known as “fight or flight.” This constant state of stress can alter or damage the brain. The more often you experience trauma, the worse the effects are, and can lead to lasting effects well into adulthood when left untreated.

The Link Between Childhood Trauma and Depression

Depression is often viewed as solely caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. However, new research is showing that depression can have many causes, both biological and mental. Because childhood trauma actually alters the brain’s functioning, it can lead to a dramatic increase in the risk of developing depression in adulthood. It can even increase the risk of suicide as an adult. 

For example, one study found that women who experienced at least two traumatic or adverse events during their youth are more than twice as likely to experience depression during perimenopause and menopause. Other studies have shown that multiple traumatic experiences such as emotional or sexual abuse “may lead to a more chronic and severe course of depression.” Further, experiencing seven different types of adverse events increases the likelihood of attempting suicide by 3,100 percent and drug use by more than 4,000 percent. 

Hope in Healing

While healing from childhood trauma is easier during your youth thanks to the higher neuroplasticity of the brain prior to age 25, it is not impossible as an adult. There are many different treatment options available to you that can help you heal from unresolved childhood trauma. 

It’s important to remember that no two traumatic experiences are the same and everyone reacts differently to trauma. This means that no two healing journeys will be the same. It’s important to reach out for help and work with licensed professionals to find what types of treatments and therapies will work best for you. 

Both medical and mental health care as well as therapy should be incorporated into your healing journey. Most people with trauma find that a combination of different therapies, counseling, and medication are the most helpful in recovering from trauma. I encourage you to reach out to your medical provider for medical help and to find a therapist who specializes in childhood trauma to begin on your healing journey. 

If you or someone you know needs immediate assistance, call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by dialing 988. If you or someone you know is in immediate danger of self-harm, call 911.