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New Study Shows That Trauma Is Generational

In many ways, the issues our parents go through even before we were born can have an impact on our own childhood and development, whether the connection is direct or indirect. However, the link may be even deeper than we thought, as a recent study covered by The Root shows that the daughters of women exposed to childhood trauma are at an increased risk for psychiatric disorders such as depression or bipolar disorder. The one surprise? Men and their sons appear not to have the same connection.

Researchers studied 46,877 Finnish children who were evacuated to Sweden during World War II, between 1940 and 1944. They then tracked the health of their 93,391 male and female children born from 1950 to 2010. The results, covered in JAMA Psychiatry showed that the female children of mothers who had been evacuated to Sweden were twice as likely to be hospitalized for a psychiatric illness as their female cousins who had not been evacuated, and more than four times as likely to have serious psychiatric disorders.

At the core, the obvious explanation here appears to be that the daughters had the misfortune to inherit mental disorders from their mothers, confounding the results. However, even when the studies were controlled for parent psychiatric disorders, the finding still upheld. Lead author Torsten Santavirta, an associate professor at Uppsala University said that it is possible that traumatic events cause changes in gene expression that can then be inherited, but the researchers did not have access to genetic information.

“The most important takeaway is that childhood trauma can be passed on to offspring,” Dr. Santavirta told the New York Times, “and the wrinkle here is that these associations are s*x-specific.” This opens up a whole wide set of ideas and theories, but there is one fact to consider. Previous studies found that the evacuated individuals experienced a higher rate of psychiatric disorders (specifically mood disorders) in adulthood than the non-evacuated individuals. Now, we know that the same applies to children, but for some reason, there was a divide here based on gender.

At the moment, it’s far too early to use these results to guide our approach to mental health, which already needs plenty of help in this country. However, this does provide an interesting fact to ponder over, as well as consider how much a failure to treat issues now could become later.

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