Posts Tagged ‘Harvard Medical School’

The Damage Done by Forcibly Separating Children from Parents

June 19, 2018

Please excuse this interruption in the series of the posts on “The Upside of Stress” (between the 11th and 10th Posts), but current events justify this interruption. There have been a number of healthy memory posts stressing the importance of mothers loving their children and the damage done by indifferent mothers. The notion advanced by HM is that that most of the negative incidents typically reported in the news probably are the result of children who lacked a loving mother. The forceful separation of children that is now occurring at our current borders is even worse. This current post is based primarily on an article by William Wan in the 19 June 2018 issue of the Washington Post titled “When children are forcibly separated from parents, ‘‘The effect is catastrophic.’”

Here is what happens inside children when they are forcibly separated from their parents. Their heart rate goes up. Their body releases a flood of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. These stress hormones can start killing off dendrites, which are the little branches in brain cells that transmit messages. Eventually this stress can start killing off neurons and, especially in young children, wreaking dramatic and long-term damage, both psychological and to the physical structure to the brain.

A pediatrics professor at Harvard Medical School said, “The effect is catastrophic, There’s so much research on this that if people paid attention at all to the science they would never do this.”

This is why pediatricians, psychologists, other health experts, as well as other caring human beings, have been led to vehemently oppose the Trump administration’s new border crossing policy, which has separated more than 2,000 immigrant children from their parents in recent weeks.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Physicians, and the American Psychiatric Association have all issued statements representing more than 250,000 doctors in the United States against this new, intolerable policy. Nearly 7,700 mental health professionals and 142 organizations have also signed a petition urging Trump to end the policy. The petition reads, “To pretend that separated children do not grow up with the shrapnel of this traumatic experience embedded in their minds is to disregard everything we know about child development, the brain, and trauma,” the petition reads.

Nelson has studied the neurological damage from child-parent separation, work which he has said has reduced him to tears. In 2000 the Romanian government invited Nelson and a team of researchers into its state orphanages to advise them on a humanitarian crisis created by dictator Nicolae Ceausescu’s policies.

At these orphanages, Nelson said, “we saw kids rocking uncontrollably and hitting themselves, hitting their heads against walls. They had to make up a rule as researchers that they would never cry in front of children. As the children grew older Nelson and his colleagues began finding disturbing differences in their brains. Those separated from their parents at a young age had much less white matter, which is largely made up of fibers that transmit information throughout the brain, as well as much less gray matter, which contains the brain-cell bodies that process information and solve problems. The activity in the children’s brains was much lower than expected. Nelson said, “it’s as though here was a dimmer than had reduced them from a 100-watt bulb to 30 watts.”

The children, who had been separated from their parents in their first two years of life, scored significantly lower on IQ tests later in life. Their fight-or-flight response system appeared permanently broken. Stressful situations that would usually prompt physiological responses in other people, increased heart rate, sweaty palms, would provoke nothing in the children.

What alarmed the researchers most was the duration of the damage. Unlike other parts of the body, most cells in the brain cannot renew or repair themselves.

“The reason child-parent separation has such devastating effects is because it attacks one of the most fundamental and critical bonds in human biology.

From the time they are born, children emotionally attach to their caregiver and vice versa, said Lisa Fortuna, medical director for child and adolescent psychiatry at Boston Medical Center. Skin-to-skin contact for newborns, for example, is critical to their development, research shows. ‘Our bodies secrete hormones like oxytocin on contact that reinforces the bond, to help us attach and connect,’ Fortuna said.

A child’s sense of what safety means depends on that relationship. And, without it, the parts of the brain that deal with attachment and fear, the amygdala and hippocampus, develop differently. The reason such children often develop PTSD later in life is that these neurons start firing irregularly. ‘The part of their brain that sorts things into safe or dangerous doesn’t work like it’s supposed to. Things that are not threatening, seem threatening.’

Research on Aboriginal children in Australia who were removed from their families also showed long-lasting effects. They were nearly twice as likely to be arrested or criminally charged as adults, 60% more likely to have alcohol abuse problems and more than twice as likely to struggle with gambling.

In China, where 1 in 5 children live in villages without their parents, who migrate for work, studies have shown that those ‘left behind’ children have markedly higher rates of anxiety and depression later in life.

Other studies have shown separation leading to increased aggression, withdrawal and cognitive difficulties.

Luis H. Mayas, a psychiatry professor at the University of Texas said “if you take the moral, spiritual, even political aspect out of it, from a strictly medical and scientific point of view what we as a country are doing to these children at the border is unconscionable . The harm our government is now causing will take a lifetime to undo.’”

The justification provided by several in the Trump administration was that they were enforcing the law. This is reminiscent of Nazis running the concentration camps killing jews claiming that they were only following orders.

Remember that at Charlottesville Trump was given several opportunities to denounce the nazi demonstrators. HIs lack of response was understandable when one considers that nazis are part of Trump’s base.

Getting Just 6 Hours of Sleep is Linked to Mental Health Issues

May 5, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article in the In Brief Section of the 28 April 2018 issue of the New Scientist. Kelly Sullivan and Collins Ordiah at Georgia Southern University conducted a survey of more than 20,000 people in the US. The respondents were asked about their sleep habits and mood over the past 30 days.

The recommended amount of sleep is 7 to 9 hours. Around a quarter of the respondents said they got between 6 and 7 hours. This group was around 70% more likely to report signs of mental health problems—including nervousness and feeling hopeless—compared to those who got more sleep (“Neurology, Psychiatry and Brain Research”,
doi.org/cnm3).

Sullivan does say that it is unclear whether lack of sleep causes mental health problems or if it is the other way around. But Steven Lockley at Harvard Medical School isn’t surprised that a small lack of sleep may have an effect. He says, “The hour we lose to daylight savings time causes a 17% increase in car crashes on the Monday morning after the switch.”