Approximately 2℅ of boys who have experienced just one ACE (Adverse Childhood Experience) go on to develop chronic depression. In the case of girls who have experienced one ACE, however, this figure dramatically increases to 18%.
And, in the case of boys who have experienced 4 ACES or more, 33% will go on to develop chronic depression; for girls, however, this figure rises to a massive 60%.
A study lead by Harringa, PhD, highlighted three areas of the brain that can be adversely affected by the experiences of ACES. These were:
– the prefrontal cortex
– the amygdala
– the hippocampus
Below, I briefly describe the function of each of these brain regions:
1) Prefrontal cortex: we use the prefrontal cortex to refect upon and analyze information and to decide how we should behave and act.
3) Hippocampus: this part of our brains is involved with storing memories and helps us to discern between a genuine and real threat and a false alarm.
It seems that how the prefrontal cortex interacts with the hippocampus is disrupted in both boys and girls as a result of the experience of ACES (even if these ACES are relatively mild). This results in:
– increased hypervigilence
– overreaction to perceived threats
– a debilitating feeling of being on constant ‘red-alert’
– constantly feeling in danger, unsafe and under threat (even in the absence, objectively speaking, of any external causes for this)
However, on top of this, in the case of girls, the experience of ACES also appears to disrupt communication between the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus as well. This results in a still greater inability to effectively control the fear response and, too, more severe overreactions to stress and perceived threat.
This extra problem that develops in girls as a result of the experience of childhood trauma is thought to be a major reason that females are more likely to develop both depression and anxiety as a consequence such trauma than are males.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).