Poor Childhood Associated With Poor Brain Connectivity, Depression
Childhood poverty has been linked with numerous negative health effects, including an increased risk of depression. However, until now scientists have not really been able to explain the connection aside from making guesses about how economic pressures may impact the brain.
Now, researchers from Washington University St. Louis may have the first evidence showing how poverty may affect brain connectivity and eventually lead to depression.
In a study recently published in The American Journal of Psychiatry, the researchers say they were able to establish that children from poor families show poorer brain connectivity compared to those from affluent families.
Specifically, the team observed a deviation in the hippocampus and amygdala, which are responsible for cognitive and emotional processes in the brain. According to the report, children from poorer families showed weaker connectivity in these regions.
Moreso, the team noted brain connectivity appeared to become worse depending on the level of poverty children experienced. The poorer the child’s family was, the weaker the connections of the hippocampus and amygdala appeared.
The researchers also found that poor preschool children showed a significantly higher chance of developing clinical depression when they reached the age of 9 or 10 years old.
For the study, the researchers evaluated children between the ages of 3 and 5 years old from day-care centers. Then, the researchers performed annual behavioral assessments until the child turned 12 years old.
The team also had both healthy children and those who showed clinical signs of depression undergo functional MRI scans between the ages of 7 and 12 years old to evaluate functional connectivity in the brain.
While the studies may encourage greater efforts to reach children from impoverished families to intervene in depression early, the researchers say the results do not mean a poor child is bound to struggle with depression in their life.
First author Deanna M. Barch explains, “Many things can be done to foster brain development and positive emotional development.