Research shows that child abuse can lead to poorer stress management, and worse health in adults


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New research from Rice University shows that people who experienced abuse or neglect as children may have difficulty managing stress later in life, a problem linked to a host of negative health conditions.

The study, “Childhood Abuse, Subjective Social Status, and Health Disparities in Bereavement,” examined how 130 adults who experienced abuse or neglect as children deal with stress after the death of their spouses. Michelle Chen, a graduate student in the Biobehavioral Mechanisms Explained Difference (BMED) lab led by Christopher Fagunds at Rice, is the study’s lead author.

Chen and her study colleagues found that some adults who were abused or neglected in childhood coped with the loss of their spouses better than others, depending on their view of where they stood on the social ladder.

The researchers based much of their work on the amount of inflammation in people’s bloodstreams. Increased inflammation is associated with an increased risk of viral infections and chronic diseases including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, respiratory disease, and depression. The researchers studied how childhood trauma and a person’s perception of their social standing affected the inflammatory response of the bloodstream after the loss of a spouse.

Fagundes, associate professor of psychological sciences at Rice, said the study adds to the growing scientific evidence that looking at multiple risk factors is critical to understanding how stressful life events affect people’s immune systems and overall health.

The researchers hope that the study will not only help clinicians identify adults who are at the highest risk after a stressful life event, but will also lead to policies and programs that help abused people while children learn to better manage stress.

Loss of sleep after the death of a spouse may harm the health of the survivor

more information:
Michael A. Chen et al., Child abuse, subjective social status, and health disparities in bereavement, Neuroendocrinology (2021). DOI: 10.1016 / j.psyneuen.2021.105595

Presented by Rice University

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