Child abuse linked to changes in brain structure that may lead to depression, suicidal tendencies


McGill University researchers say they have found that people who were abused as children have specific changes to the part of their brain that helps regulates emotions and mood which could go a long way to explain the long lasting effects of child abuse.

Brain samples were taken from two groups of adults who committed suicide and who suffered from depression- adults who were abused as children and those who weren't. A third group had no psychiatric illnesses or a history of child abuse. Only those who suffered from abuse had changes to their brain wiring that regulates mood and emotions.

"These changes really have to do with the emergence of depression, for instance, which happens so often as a consequence of child abuse," said McGill Psychiatry professor Dr. Naguib Mechawar, one of the study's lead authors. He conducted the research with three colleagues from the McGill Group for Suicide Studies at the Douglas Mental Health University Institute.

Mechawar said they'd already known childhood abuse was linked to increased risks of such as depression, anxiety and suicidal tendencies but their research goes further.

"With this accuracy of actually pinpointing the cells that are affected and what are the anatomical microscopic consequences, this is really the first time," said Mechawar in an interview with CJAD 800 News.

"Why does child abuse have these consequences at the macroscopic level in this brain region?" 

Their research is featured in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

"These are important results that hopefully would also help to  prevent child abuse," said Mechawar.