Help A Depressed Kid from Becoming a Depressed Adult by Doing This

A new study shows how children who face difficult times grow up to be anxious adults. Luckily, there's something we all can do. 

Life is often unfair, with some people seemingly getting more than their share of hard times. As adults, we’re (generally) better equipped to handle stress and trauma than children. But what happens to the brains of kids that face enormously difficult challenges? A new study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, indicates it changes their brains and makes them more susceptible to developing anxiety and depression later in life.

The study observed about 500 boys at various stages of their lives. Those who faced stressful events such as death of a parent, poverty, or instability at home, had notable differences in gray matter than those who did not face such adversity. There was lower gray matter in the area of the brain that handles emotion, decision making, and empathy; and increased gray matter in the area that handles remembering life events. They also had a greater tendency to internalize their emotions.

The Adverse Childhood Study found that survivors of childhood trauma are up to 5,000 percent more likely to attempt suicide, have eating disorders, or become IV drug users.

  • Check out our innovative playlist on mental health.
  • Young children (usually under six) tend to internalize the events around them, believing that they cause everything that happens. That’s why so many young children believe they are the reason their parents divorced, or feel responsible for a parent’s death — little kids don’t understand causality, and assume they are the catalyst for everything. So if a traumatic event occurs, or a stressful situation is recurring, it makes sense that they would internalize those experiences and believe, even on a subconscious level, that it is their fault.

    Erik Erikson developed a theory of psychosocial development that stated that around ages three to five, kids are exploring their environment with the central question, “Am I good or bad?” It also makes sense, then, a feeling of wrongness or of “I’m bad,” would develop if we don't understand causality yet. As we replay the events in our head, more energy goes to remembering them and less energy goes to skillfully processing them.

    When we can share our experiences, no matter what our age, it helps us regulate our emotions and creates feelings of connectivity, trust, and belonging. You don’t have to have a Ph.D. in psychology; you just have to be an attentive listener and mirror back the emotions.

    Kids who can’t process their emotions healthily are only going to continue to internalize the negative feelings and negative self-image, and eventually when they are teenagers and adults, they are going to be depressed. So what’s the solution? How can we help these children make sense of heavy life events? How can we take some of the confusion and self-blame away and focus on creating healthy processing? The doctors in the JAMA-published study recommend talking through it.

    When we can share our experiences, no matter what our age, it helps us regulate our emotions and creates feelings of connectivity, trust, and belonging. You don’t have to have a Ph.D. in psychology; you just have to be an attentive listener and mirror back the emotions. Sometimes giving someone our full attention is the most generous thing we can do. And in this case, it can help prevent a child from growing up into an anxious and depressed adult. Put down your devices; be with each other. If you know a kid is going through a hard time, be present for them. Trust me; there’s not an app for that.


    PHOTO CREDIT: McCarthy/Hulton Archive

    Lori Chandler is a writer and comedian living in Brooklyn, NY. She has been published in The New York Times and on CollegeHumor. You can follow her on Twitter @LilBoodleChild to keep up with her latest pieces, performance dates, and wry observations.

    LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

    Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

    Getty Images
    Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

    No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

    Keep reading Show less

    10 books to check out from Jordan Peterson's 'Great Books' list

    The Canadian professor has an extensive collection posted on his site.

    Jordan Peterson with Carl Jung and the cover art of Jaak Panksepp's 'Affective Neuroscience' (Image: Chris Williamson/Getty Images/Big Think)
    Personal Growth
    • Peterson's Great Books list features classics by Orwell, Jung, Huxley, and Dostoevsky.
    • Categories include literature, neuroscience, religion, and systems analysis.
    • Having recently left Patreon for "freedom of speech" reasons, Peterson is taking direct donations through Paypal (and Bitcoin).
    Keep reading Show less

    Your body’s full of stuff you no longer need. Here's a list.

    Evolution doesn't clean up after itself very well.

    Image source: Ernst Haeckel
    Surprising Science
    • An evolutionary biologist got people swapping ideas about our lingering vestigia.
    • Basically, this is the stuff that served some evolutionary purpose at some point, but now is kind of, well, extra.
    • Here are the six traits that inaugurated the fun.
    Keep reading Show less

    Should you invest in China's stock market? Know this one thing first.

    Despite incredible economic growth, it is not necessarily an investor's paradise.

    • China's stock market is just 27 years old. It's economy has grown 30x over that time.
    • Imagine if you had invested early and gotten in on the ground floor.
    • Actually, you would have lost money. Here's how that's possible.