If this happened to you in childhood, you may have mental health problems

The rippling effects one’s childhood has on the basic emotional-character of one’s adult life is pretty well established in psychology, pop culture, and our collective impression. But is it possible that this correlation has been overemphasized in the research literature?

In a new study published in the journal, Current Psychology, a team of academics from the University of South Australia and the University of Canberra posits that even when everything goes right during the rearing process, mental unwellness remains possible later in life.

While it may be true that statistical evidence supports dysfunctional childhoods producing instability in adults, the inverse is not backed as extensively. In fact, it’s a major point of contention among psychologists.

“The life history model of psychopathology provides an alternate framework for understanding the development and etiology of psychopathology; however, presently there is minimal empirical support for this perspective,” the authors wrote in the report. 

“The current study replicated and extended previous research, investigating the associations between life-history traits, including demographic indicators, attachment, and psychopathology, in a mental health and general population sample. The study specifically aimed to explore whether life-history traits were associated with a general factor of psychopathology or whether they could also predict specific symptom groups, with results suggesting that life-history traits could predict both.”

The mechanisms that facilitate mental distortion are extremely varied. Genetics certainly have their role to play as does early traumas. The thing is, no human will engage with any, one correlative mechanism the same way. Anecdotally, you can probably name as many people that handled 2020 admirably as you can name people that collapsed beneath it.

The authors of the latest report similarly discovered that our ability to cope with circumstances and biology is mostly out of our control. Desired social qualities like resolve can be feigned, but one’s neurological capacity to process traumatic experiences is dependent on an uneven mess of pre-conditions, summations, and unknowns. 

“Nothing humbles history’s great thinkers more quickly than reading their declarations on the causes of madness. Over the centuries, mental illness has been attributed to everything from a “badness of spirit” (Aristotle) and a “humoral imbalance” (Galen) to autoerotic fixation (Freud) and the weakness of the hierarchical state of the ego (Jung),” health and medical reporter, Benedict Carey writes. 

In some ways, a lack of a definitive cause is relieving. One of the most common anxieties expressed by new parents concerns a fear of keeping their child from a rich social life. This accompanies the notion that the right books or mediations defend the difference between Oprah and Andrea Yates. In the instances wherein mental illness penetrates a considered and thoughtful parenting style, feelings of failure often follow thereafter.

That seems a disservice to any parent’s base level intentions, in addition to forgiving harmful stigmas about what it means to be psychologically abnormal. 

It’s not only more comforting to accept the unreliable and unknowable author of one’s psychological makeup, but it’s also more reasonable. As pointed out by the new paper. 

“As the prevalence of mental health conditions expands, it’s imperative that we also extend our knowledge of this very complex and varied condition,” the lead researcher says in a university release. “This research shows that mental health conditions are not solely determined by early life events and that a child who is raised in a happy home, could still grow up to have a mental health disorder. There are certainly some missing factors in understanding how our childhood environment and early life experiences might translate into mental health outcomes in adulthood.”

“We suspect that it’s our expectations about our environments and our ability to adapt to scenarios when our expectations are not being met, that may be influencing our experiences of distress,” she concludes. “If, as children, we learn how to adapt to change, and we learn how to cope when things do not go our way, we may be in a better position to respond to stress and other risk factors for poor mental health.”