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Mental health takeover: Childhood has important impact on future mental health

PUBLISHED: 14:05 14 August 2017 | UPDATED: 14:05 14 August 2017

Deborah Spratling. Photo: Deborah Spratling

Deborah Spratling. Photo: Deborah Spratling

Deborah Spratling

As a private counsellor in Norwich Deborah Spratling looks at the importance of childhood in future mental health.

You may think that your childhood is in the past and mostly forgotten; that your previous relationships and experiences have not impacted who you are now, how you see yourself and ultimately your mental health.

You may need to think again, as there is a growing body of research that says our childhood experiences have serious consequences on both your mental and your physical health.

As a child you depended on your early relationships for basic survival.

If you were nurtured, you felt safe and learned you were loved and lovable.

This is called secure attachment.

However, early childhood attachments are not always healthy or secure, and this can be where problems start.

If your childhood was affected by developmental trauma - also known as adverse childhood experiences - or even if your parents (or teachers) were angry or critical, you would react as if you were stressed.

Your human survival system would release chemicals into your brain and body that would impact your healthy development.

As children or teenagers, seemingly innocent situations may have caused you to be agitated and want to get away (flight), get angry (fight), or to stay still until the event ended or person went away (freeze).

These experiences and relationships can be set into your unconscious memory and often affect you into your adult life.

When you feel upset by experiences or relationships you may respond in similar ways.

If this happens frequently the chemicals involved can, in the longer term, affect your gut, heart and brain health.

These stress chemicals are believed to affect weight gain, diabetes and heart disease.

Sometimes by talking through difficult memories with a counsellor you can reframe some of these experiences and understand that as a child you had little or no control over what happened.

As an adult you have more control than you believe to change your life, your health, and to finally lay any ghosts of the past to rest.

• Deborah Spratling is an integrative psychotherapeutic counsellor, working with children, adolescents and adults in Norwich.

• For more from the EDP’s special mental health takeover edition, click here.

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