Influence of Experiences in Childhood on Adults Psychological Adjustment and the Onset of Mental Illnesses

Through a clinical researcher life for more than 30 years, I have been considering that observing individuals’ psychology is not sufficient to fully appreciate human psyche. Individuals are on the point of life stages from birth to death, making life cycle from generation to generation. In addition, individuals’ development is cherished in interpersonal relationship with people around them: family members, friends, acquaintances, colleagues, and people in communities. Interpersonal relationship is in the midst of wider social environment such as culture, climate, and legal systems. Medical and welfare professionals can better understand their clients with such perspective in mind. This results in values-based medical services.

Thus, we examined the contribution of childhood experiences (such as parental loss due to separation or death, perceived parenting, child abuse, bullied experience, and other events) to mental health indexes for adults (such as marital satisfaction, interpersonal relationship, social adjustment, and self-confidence) as well as adult onset of mental illnesses including depression and drinking problems.

Our intensive studies on child abuse included (1) the frequency of child abuse in Japan that was much more higher than that Japanese people expected, (2) the characteristics of child abuse in Japan, (3) the influence of psychological development of children and psychiatric status after the children become adults, (4) the factors of onset of child abuse, (5) interaction between other experiences, (6) help seeking behaviours of abused children, and (7) clinical and legal intervention methods.

We also reported that personality and experiences in childhood predicted current social supports and QOL while life events such as upbringing, move, and bullying predicted personality traits (measured by the EPQ and the TCI), depressive symptoms, and antisocial conduct.

These studies show the importance that health care professionals should have to pay attention to individual clients’ life history in order to deeply understand the current psychological adjustment.

For example, people who had insufficient upbringing in their childhood are more likely to have an onset of depression in adulthood. This link is, however, not a direct cause-and-effect relationship between the two but because people who were brought up in aversive environment are more likely to have low self-directed trait and people with low self-directedness are more likely to have (under stress situations) an onset of depression. These are thus cascading effects. Our narrative study on experiences of sexual harassment in childhood found that inner causal attribution and feeling of “shame” mediated the effects of sexual harassment on PTSD symptoms in early adulthood.

Another important issue is attachment to opposite sex and sexual behaviour in adolescent. Adolescence is characterised by a sharp increase of onset of metal illnesses such as depression. This is the time when “significant other” changes from parents to friends and/or a boy/girl friend. Many clinical cases showed that this change of interpersonal relationship would be the cause of stress. Moreover, attachment styles (which are relationships of being boyfriend and girlfriend) in adolescence is supposed to be an extension of attachment to parents in childhood. Therefore, it is very meaningful that we clinically study attachment styles (which are relationships of being boyfriend and girlfriend) in adolescent years. We studied the structure of attachment styles in adolescence and reported that upbringing experiences in childhood predicted the structure of attachment styles in adolescence. We also reported that the adjustment of husband and wife in middle age is predicted by his or her personality.

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