“Parents need to be aware of possible causes of trauma and the effects it can have on their children” –Ms. Kathleen Yee, BCS social worker and counsellor
Mental health issues, such as childhood traumas remain an underrated and neglected topic in the Arab world generally, and in Lebanon particularly. Thus, a lot of misconceptions are being taught by parents and a very small portion of society are actually aware of the tremendous consequences and impacts a certain traumatic event can have on most individuals, whether on a physical, emotional or intellectual level.
At any time, a child might live a traumatic experience which is shown by him not feeling safe and protected, rather helpless in his own supposedly “comfort zone”. This disturbing episode diverges from cyber bullying to exposure of violent moves (or events).
Our mental ability develops from before birth and into adulthood (Siegel and Bryson, 2012) with certain “sensitive periods” during early childhood and adolescence, in which children’s brains are more malleable, making them more vulnerable and susceptible to changes that have permanent impacts on them.
Witnessing a major road accident, the death of a close relative, or facing sudden hospitalization due to illnesses (i.e. Covid-19 pandemic) are probable causes inducing traumatic experiences for children.
Symptoms may vary from one person to another, including psychosomatic symptoms/illnesses, anger outburst, sudden clingy behavior, loss of focus and restlessness, avoidance and/or wanting to run away.
Throughout one’s life, the body’s biology develops and evolves, affected by diverse external factors. So when a child grows up afraid or under constant pressure, the immune system and body’s stress response systems may not develop normally, because stress represents an important factor able to impair the development of the brain in absence of mental stimulation and limit it from rising to its full potential.
As a result, children with complex trauma histories may develop chronic or recurrent physical complaints and problems, such as rapid breathing or heart pounding, or may “shut down” entirely when presented with stressful situations, accompanying them to adulthood as they may engage in risky behaviors that compound these conditions on the long run. As a matter of fact, they frequently suffer from body dysregulation, meaning they over-respond or under-respond to sensory stimuli (hypersensitive to sounds, smells, touch or light, or they may suffer from anesthesia and analgesia) and thus causing damage and injuries upon themselves.
Research shows that the hormonal system of any person exposed to permanent stress and pressure sets a late response by stimulating the adrenal glands and corticosteroid hormones, thereby releasing cortisol and cortisone to mobilize the body’s energy and tranquilize the individual. Nevertheless, these effects can be extremely harmful to the person.
Furthermore, the neural connections in an area of the brain associated with regulation of emotion, attention, and various other cognitive processes are critically damaged in adults who went through severe abuse in their early life.
People with childhood traumas have decreased volumes of white matter, along with thinner myelin coating in a large percentage of nerve fibers. Abnormal development also impacts the function of oligodendrocytes, which is considerably related to the individual’s capacity for learning.
Thickening of axons moreover negatively impacts the connectivity between the anterior cingulate cortex and associated areas of the brain, creating impediments in processing emotions and cognitive functioning.
But what harm could a traumatic experience do? Well, the situation is often worse than it seems. Children may have problems thinking clearly, reasoning, or problem solving. Additionally, difficulties could spread to becoming unable to plan ahead and anticipate the future, having trouble thinking a problem through and acquiring new skills. They may struggle with sustaining attention or curiosity and also show deficits in language development and abstract reasoning skills.
A simple car accident or abrupt change in a child’s daily life can have an enormous impact on his wellbeing and mental health leading to potential childhood trauma and later-on physical and emotional complications in adulthood, causing them to have intellectual instability and incapability that might even get shoddier if not treated correctly. Pause for a minute and imagine the amount of physical pain, emotional distress and constant fear, most of, if not all the Lebanese children went through after the Beirut Port explosion on August 4. All of these innocent kids are still undergoing the troubling consequences of this tremendous and cruel incident. Children now have acknowledged the mess, the emptiness and the brokenness that was left behind all of the missing, injured, and dead victims and are now frightened after hearing the sound of thunder and rain, for it reminds them of the blast.
Can you imagine the severity yet the fragility of this tackled issue and how it controls the life of millions of children all around the world, whether directly or indirectly? Do you now notice how much childhood traumas are neglected matters, particularly in Lebanon? It is our responsibility to shed the light on its impact for a healthier wellbeing and a better societal outcome. Therefore, let us all start acting accordingly.
18 years old. Passionate about writing and longing to find justice in society someday.