The study involved asking 25 mothers if they had experienced extreme stress caused by domestic abuse whilst they were pregnant, before an assessment of their emotional level was performed.
The researchers then went on to monitor the behaviour of a specific gene known as the ‘glucocorticoid receptor’ in their children, all of whom were aged between nine and 19.
This gene is involved in the brain’s response to stress, and the researchers discovered it was less active in the brains of the children whose mothers had been abused whilst pregnant than in those whose mothers had a happy pregnancy.
Researcher Helen Gunter from the University of Konstanz highlighted the fact that past studies have shown how children who have abused parents are more prone to depression later on in life. The study they have conducted here has similar results, showing that extreme stress of domestic abuse can also change the way people respond to stress and could result in individuals being unable to deal with it effectively both in the present and in the future.
Gunter stressed that this study is very specific to abuse and the researchers did not look into the effects of everyday stresses such as work commitments. She also pointed out that the study was heavily reliant upon the mother’s memories of abuse after over a decade and it does not prove that abuse towards mothers-to-be results in physical changes to a child’s brain, only that there is a link.
Carmine Pariante, a doctor at the Institute of Psychiatry at Kings College London, commented: ‘This paper confirms that the early foundation years start at minus nine months. We have known for some time that maternal stress and depression during pregnancy induce a unique response in the offspring, by affecting children’s behaviour well into adolescence and children’s ability to modulate their own stress response.’
‘As we and others have been advocating, addressing maternal stress and depression in pregnancy is a clinically and socially important strategy.’
If you are a victim of emotional or physical abuse then you do not need to suffer in silence. There is a huge number of organisations who are experienced in the field and want to help. If you believe you may be in immediate danger then call the emergency services for assistance, otherwise there are a number of websites and helplines offering assistance.
The National Domestic Violence Helpline offers free 24 hour support on 0808 2000 247 or alternatively you can visit their website at www.nationaldomesticviolencehelpline.org.uk. If you are concerned about children at risk you can contact the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) on 0808 800 5000 or visit www.nspcc.org.uk.
Many individuals who have suffered from abuse also find that counselling and psychotherapy can be of benefit. If you would like to find out more about how abuse counselling could help you, please visit our fact-sheet for further information.
View the original Daily Mail article.