How does upbringing affect your mental health?

08 January 2019

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Question

How does your childhood affect you in later life?

Answer

 Chris Smith put this question to Cambridge Unviersity mental health expert Anne-Laura...

Anne-Laura - So, we know that your childhood is actually really important for your mental health risk. One important clue is that mental health risk often emerges still in childhood. And we know that negative experiences in early life are really, really important for making you more vulnerable to develop mental illness later on in life. The idea is that if you have lots and lots of stress when your brain is developing and when your cognitive functioning is developing still it will impact or so the stress will shape your development. And an example of this is for instance that your brain is really able to quickly detect threatening things, stimuli, in the environment which, from an evolutionary point of view is really important because, when you're walking around in the woods seeing a bear will help you to respond to that quickly right, but when the bear’s in your home environment day in day out this chronic level of stress might lead to your brain to be developed slightly differently making you hyper vigilant to threatening experiences in the real world.

Chris -  So if someone has had a very traumatic upbringing or a bad series of life events when they're little, what should they do to make sure that they do reinforce the positives and don't slip into this vicious cycle of developing the risk factors that would put them at risk of a mental illness later.

Anne-Laura - It's a whole multitude of things that can help and we call them resilience factors. So resilience factors are things that help if you've experienced really negative things to make you more resilient in the future and we know that self-esteem and once your self-esteem is high it helps and we know that when you have really good support from your friends it helps we know that when you have a caring loving family that that helps. So there are lots of different things and there are things within the body within yourself but there are also things in your environment and you don't have to have all of them. You can have one of them in order for it to be beneficial for you in the future.

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