Positive Relationships In Childhood Can Prevent Depression Later In Life : Shots - Health News Researchers asked adults to reflect back on their happy childhood memories. They found those who recalled more were less likely to have depression in adulthood and had more supportive relationships.

Positive Childhood Experiences May Buffer Against Health Effects Of Adverse Ones

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We're going to spend a moment now on a new study about how positive relationships people have as children may have long-lasting impacts. The research is done by Christina Bethell of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. And for her, this work is personal. She faced a lot of adversity growing up in a low-income housing complex in LA in the 1970s. But there were positive things, too.

CHRISTINA BETHELL: There was this woman. Her name was Mrs. Raccoon. And every Saturday, she had a birthday party. And she would have tea and little hard candies. And we would just sit there together and celebrate. And I'm not sure if every week there was even a child with a birthday, but it didn't matter. We just sat there, and she was just present - didn't talk a lot, but she was there. And she was always there.


Bethell says there's lots of research that shows that adversity, things like abuse and neglect, can have negative impacts later in life. Her new study, out today in JAMA Pediatrics, looks at the impact that positive experiences in childhood can have on adults, particularly on their mental health.


BETHELL: What is reported on here are experiences as lived and recalled by the person. So even if someone else might look in and say, you didn't have adversity or you had lots of nurturing as a child, it's really what we took in and built our beliefs and identity around that has actually been knocking around in our nervous system and our brains and our emotions all this time.


BETHELL: For our study, we analyzed data from the Wisconsin Behavioral Risk Factor Survey. And the specific positive childhood experiences that were assessed in the survey asked whether the respondents recalled that they were able to talk with their family about their feelings, felt that their family stood by them during difficult times, had at least two nonparent adults who took genuine interest in them, whether they felt safe and protected by an adult in their home, felt supported by friends and felt a sense of belonging in high school and in their community.


BETHELL: First of all, we did find that positive experiences were indeed associated with lower rates of mental health problems and higher rates of having relationships as an adult where you get the social and emotional support you need 'cause we need this throughout all life.

Yet, it's the accumulation of positive experiences that really pack the punch. Getting to the numbers, we found that having higher counts of those positive experiences was associated with 72% lower odds of having depression or poor mental health.


BETHELL: Overall, we believe that our study really does shine a light of hope that every moment matters. Every interaction with a child has a reaction in that child. Even as we keep up working to address the many social and cultural factors we need to address to prevent negative experiences, we should be focused on proactive promotion of the positive.

Intervene early when adverse experiences do take place, and buffer negative effects by restoring, in any way we can, a child's sense of safety, belonging, the capacity to become and grow, in particular to promote this in a through-any-door kind of way, like happened in my childhood, so that wherever a child goes - you know, to school, early care, walking around their community, to a doctor - they're met with warmth and adults that really purposely try to see and respond to them and meet their healthy needs for care and guidance.

CHANG: That's professor Christina Bethell of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Her study is out today in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.


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