Environmental experiences play a powerful role in shaping mental health across the life course. Exposure to trauma, socioeconomic disadvantage, and other forms of chronic stress and adversity are associated with elevated risk for multiple forms of psychopathology throughout development. Biological psychiatry research has revealed that alterations in brain structure and function are key mechanisms through which adverse environmental experiences contribute to the emergence of psychopathology. Characterizing the neurobiological pathways that underlie the links between adverse experiences and the onset of mental disorders is an active and burgeoning area of research.
Background: Despite the high prevalence of childhood adversity and well-documented associa- tions with poor academic achievement and psychopathology, effective, scalable interventions remain largely unavailable. Existing interventions targeting growth mindset—the belief that personal characteristics are malleable—have been shown to improve academic achievement and symptoms of psychopathology in youth.
Objective: The present study examines growth mindset as a potential modifiable mechanism un- derlying the associations of two dimensions of childhood adversity—threat and deprivation—- with academic achievement and internalizing psychopathology. Participants and setting: Participants were 408 youth aged 10–18 years drawn from one timepoint of two longitudinal studies of community-based samples recruited to have diverse experiences of childhood adversity.
Method: Experiences of threat and deprivation were assessed using a multi-informant, multi- method approach. Youth reported on growth mindset of intelligence and symptoms of anxiety and depression. Parents provided information about youths’ academic performance. Results: Both threat and deprivation were independently associated with lower growth mindset, but when accounting for co-occurring adversities, only the association between threat and lower growth mindset remained significant. Lower growth mindset was associated with worse academic performance and greater symptoms of both anxiety and depression. Finally, there was a signifi- cant indirect effect of experiences of threat on both lower academic performance and greater symptoms of anxiety through lower growth mindset.
Conclusions: Findings suggest that growth mindset could be a promising target for efforts aimed at mitigating the impact of childhood adversity on academic achievement and psychopathology given the efficacy of existing brief, scalable growth mindset interventions.
The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced widespread societal changes that have required ongoing adaptation. Unsurprisingly, stress-related psychopathology has increased during the pandemic, in both children and adults. We review these patterns through the lens of several leading conceptual models of the link between stress and psychopathology. Some of these models focus on characteristics of environmental stressors—including cumulative risk, specific stressor types, and stress sensitization approaches. Understanding the specific aspects of environmental stressors that are most likely to lead to psychopathology can shed light on who may be in most need of clinical intervention. Other models center on factors that can buffer against the onset of psychopathology following stress and the mechanisms through which stressors contribute to emergent psychopathology. These models highlight specific psychosocial processes that may be most usefully targeted by interventions to reduce stress-related psychopathology. We review evidence for each of these stress models in the context of other widescale community-level disruptions, like natural disasters and terrorist attacks, alongside emerging evidence for these stress pathways from the COVID-19 pandemic. We discuss clinical implications for developing interventions to reduce stress-related psychopathology during the pandemic, with a focus on brief, digital interventions that may be more accessible than traditional clinical services.
Exposure to childhood adversity has been consistently associated with poor devel- opmental outcomes, but it is unclear whether these associations vary across dif- ferent forms of adversity. We examined cross-sectional and longitudinal associa- tions between threat and deprivation with cognition, emotional processing, and psy- chopathology in a middle-income country. The sample consisted of 2511 children and adolescents (6–17 years old) from the Brazilian High-Risk Cohort for Mental Condi- tions. Parent reports on childhood adversity were used to construct adversity latent constructs. Psychopathology was measured by the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) to generate a measure of general psychopathology (the “p” factor). Executive function (EF) and attention orienting toward angry faces were assessed using cognitive tasks. All measures were acquired at two time-points 3 years apart and associations were tested using general linear models. Higher levels of psychopathology were predicted by higher levels of threat cross-sectionally and longitudinally, and by deprivation longi- tudinally. For EF, worse performance was associated only with deprivation at baseline and follow-up. Finally, threat was associated with attention orienting towards angry faces cross-sectionally, but neither form of adversity was associated with changes over time in attention bias. Our results suggest that threat and deprivation have dif- ferential associations with cognitive development and psychopathology. Exposure to adversity during childhood is a complex phenomenon with meaningful influences on child development. Because adversity can take many forms, dimensional models might help to disentangle the specific developmental correlates of different types of early experience. A video abstract of this article can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=uEU0L8exyTM.
Background: Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is accompanied by disrupted cortical neuroanatomy. We investigated alteration in covariance of structural networks associated with PTSD in regions that demonstrate the case-control differences in cortical thickness (CT) and surface area (SA).
Methods: Neuroimaging and clinical data were aggregated from 29 research sites in >1,300 PTSD cases and >2,000 trauma-exposed controls (age 6.2-85.2 years) by the ENIGMA-PGC PTSD working group. Cortical regions in the network were rank-ordered by effect size of PTSD- related cortical differences in CT and SA. The top-n (n = 2 to 148) regions with the largest effect size for PTSD > non-PTSD formed hypertrophic networks, the largest effect size for PTSD < non-PTSD formed atrophic networks, and the smallest effect size of between-group differences formed stable networks. The mean structural covariance (SC) of a given n-region network was the average of all positive pairwise correlations and was compared to the mean SC of 5,000 randomly generated n-region networks.
Results: Patients with PTSD, relative to non-PTSD controls, exhibited lower mean SC in CT- based and SA-based atrophic networks. Comorbid depression, sex and age modulated covariance differences of PTSD-related structural networks.
Conclusions: Covariance of structural networks based on CT and cortical SA are affected by PTSD and further modulated by comorbid depression, sex, and age. The structural covariance networks that are perturbed in PTSD comport with converging evidence from resting state functional connectivity networks and networks impacted by inflammatory processes, and stress hormones in PTSD.
This study examined whether COVID-19-related maternal mental health changes contributed to changes in adolescent psychopathology.
A community sample of 226 adolescents (12 years old before COVID-19) and their mothers were asked to complete COVID-19 surveys early in the pandemic (April–May 2020, adolescents 14 years) and approximately 6 months later (November 2020–January 2021). Surveys assessed pandemic-related stressors (health, financial, social, school, environment) and mental health.
Lower pre-pandemic family income-to-needs ratio was associated with higher pre-pandemic maternal mental health symptoms (anxiety, depression) and adolescent internalizing and externalizing problems, and with experiencing more pandemic-related stressors. Pandemic-related stressors predicted increases in maternal mental health symptoms, but not adolescent symptoms when other variables were covaried. Higher maternal mental health symptoms predicted concurrent increases in adolescent internalizing and externalizing. Maternal mental health mediated the effects of pre-pandemic income and pandemic-related stressors on adolescent internalizing and externalizing problems.
Results indicate that adolescent mental health is closely tied to maternal mental health during community-level stressors such as COVID-19, and that pre-existing family economic context and adolescent symptoms increase risk for elevations in symptoms of psychopathology.
Two extant frameworks – the harshness-unpredictability model and the threat-deprivation model – attempt to explain which dimensions of adversity have distinct influences on development. These models address, respectively, why, based on a history of natural selection, develop- ment operates the way it does across a range of environmental contexts, and how the neural mechanisms that underlie plasticity and learning in response to environmental experiences influence brain development. Building on these frameworks, we advance an integrated model of dimensions of environmental experience, focusing on threat-based forms of harshness, deprivation-based forms of harshness, and environ- mental unpredictability. This integrated model makes clear that the why and the how of development are inextricable and, together, essential to understanding which dimensions of the environment matter. Core integrative concepts include the directedness of learning, multiple levels of developmental adaptation to the environment, and tradeoffs between adaptive and maladaptive developmental responses to adversity. The integrated model proposes that proximal and distal cues to threat-based and deprivation-based forms of harshness, as well as unpredictability in those cues, calibrate development to both immediate rearing environments and broader ecological contexts, current and future. We high- light actionable directions for research needed to investigate the integrated model and advance understanding of dimensions of environmental experience.
Low childhood socioeconomic status (SES) is associated with increased risk for psychopathology, because in part of heightened exposure to environmental adversity. Adverse experiences can be characterized along dimensions, including threat and deprivation, that contribute to psychopathology via distinct mechanisms. The current study investigated a neural mechanism through which threat and deprivation may contribute to socioeconomic disparities in psychopathology. Participants were 177 youths (83 girls) aged 10-13 years recruited from a cohort followed since the age of 3 years. SES was assessed using the income-to-needs ratio at the age of 3 years. At the age of 10-13 years, retrospective and current exposure to adverse experiences and symptoms of psychopathology were assessed. At this same time point, participants also completed a face processing task (passive viewing of fearful and neutral faces) during an fMRI scan. Lower childhood SES was associated with greater exposure to threat and deprivation experiences. Both threat and deprivation were associated with higher depression symptoms, whereas threat experiences were uniquely linked to posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms. Greater exposure to threat, but not deprivation, was associated with higher activation in dorsomedial pFC to fearful compared with neutral faces. The dorsomedial pFC is a hub of the default mode network thought to be involved in internally directed attention and cognition. Experiences of threat, but not deprivation, are associated with greater engagement of this region in response to threat cues. Threat-related adversity contributes to socioeconomic disparities in adolescent psychopathology through distinct mechanisms from deprivation.
Child abuse is associated with elevated risk for psychopathology. The current study examined the role of automatic emotion regulation as a potential mechanism linking child abuse with internalizing psychopathology. A sample of 237 youth aged 8–16 years and their caregivers participated. Child abuse severity was assessed by self-report questionnaires, and automatic emotion regulation was assessed using an emotional Stroop task designed to measure adaptation to emotional conflict. A similar task without emotional stimuli was also administered to evaluate whether abuse was uniquely associated with emotion regulation, but not cognitive control applied in a nonemotional context. Internalizing psychopathology was assessed concurrently and at a 2-year longitudinal follow-up. Child abuse severity was associated with lower emotional conflict adaptation but was unrelated to cognitive control. Specifically, the severity of emotional and physical abuse, but not sexual abuse, were associated with lower emotional conflict adaptation. Emotional conflict adaptation was not associated with internalizing psychopathology prospectively. These findings suggest that childhood emotional and physical abuse, in particular, may influence automatic forms of emotion regulation. Future work exploring the socioemotional consequences of altered automatic emotion regulation among youth exposed to child abuse is clearly needed.