Posted by: jedwardswright | May 28, 2010

The Abuse Connection

While reading a fellow blogger’s post the other day, a light slowly dawned. The idea was so blatantly simple, so in-my-face, that I couldn’t imagine how I had neglected to perceive it before.

Abuse is the common denominator among most of my online friends with depression and I.

I had to check. Could there be statistical evidence of a link?

A research study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association in 2001 found that two-thirds of the patients who reported an attempted suicide in their past had experienced  one of eight traumatizing events in childhood, including sexual, physical , and emotional abuse and witnessing domestic abuse.[1] Lead author Dr. Shanta R. Dube theorized that this early exposure to abusive situations might disrupt neural pathways in young brains, affecting children’s future mental health.[2]

By 2008, a team of researchers at McGill University in Montreal studied samples of brain tissue taken from victims of child abuse who had later committed suicide.  These individuals, they discovered, had “caps” on chemicals that effectively suppressed a gene in the hippocampus, part of the brain which regulates mood.  Michael Meaney, one of the researchers on the project, suspects that gene suppression caused by abuse may predispose people to be suicidal.[3]

After all that we as child abuse survivors have been through, long after the outward signs of hurt and anguish have faded, we still carry emotional scars from our interrupted childhoods. We knew that.  Now there is evidence to support our inner certainty.

We could despair at the thought that there is ongoing damage to our brain chemistry, but truly, this news is nothing new. We already had the information that depression is caused by a chemical imbalance in our brains.

The difference is that what we knew instinctively is becoming understood scientifically. We are depressed because bad things happened to us.

Now it makes sense that the best treatment for depression is both therapy and antidepressants. We need healing for both our emotional and our physical hurts.

We are on the verge of being understood better by the medical and scientific community, and this should bring us hope. Better yet, we can let ourselves off the hook.  It is officially NOT our fault that we are depressed.  

We knew it all along, and now they know it too.





  1. I really liked this article. I have been diagnosed with bi polar disorder and post traumatic stress disorder and although I always felt different, it wasn’t until my thirties that I was finally diagnosed and began the healing process. In my blog I discuss my search for peace from about twelve til now — it’s an ongoing process. If you would like to check it out, feel free, it’s at

    Anyway, thanks for your blog.

    • Thanks! I didn’t get professional help until I was in my thirties either, and yet I knew in my teens that I had depression. Unfortunately, the stigma of having a mental illness was one of the things that prevented me from seeking psychiatric care until then.

  2. There are other research studies indicating that sexual abuse changes brain chemistry. The fear clients have when they hear that is that they cannot change and are doomed. The reality is that thoughts affect our brain chemistry all the time and we can heal from abuse.

    • I appreciate the addition of your professional knowledge. Do I understand you correctly, that you are saying the brain chemistry changes caused by sexual abuse and other traumatic events, does not have to be permanent?

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