Poverty can have a multitude of effects on a child’s development, but a recent study reveals that it can also make a huge impact on the happiness and well-being of a child in the long-term, changing their brain connectivity and putting them at a higher risk for depression.
For the study, a team of researchers from St. Louis’s Washington University looked at the MRI scans of 105 children between the ages of 7 and 12. Ultimately, the team found that key structures in the brain connect differently in children from poor families compared to kids who grew up in wealthy families. These brain structures are essential in shaping how children learn and regulate their emotions.
“Our past research has shown that the brain’s anatomy can look different in poor children, with the size of the hippocampus and amygdala frequently altered in kids raised in poverty,” said lead researcher Deanna Barch. “In this study, we found that the way those structures connect with the rest of the brain changes in ways we would consider to be less helpful in regulating emotion and stress.”
Additionally, the researchers found that children who experience poverty as early as preschool were more likely to develop depression between the ages of 9 and 10.
While there is no direct link established between poverty and depression, researchers surmise that it’s likely a result of environmental factors such as poor nutrition, exposure to toxins, limited education, and stress.
“Of course one’s experience of their environment can lead to or worsen depression and anxiety. It’s been long accepted that one’s psychological and social environment influence mood, why would physical environment be any different? Parents can help by knowing how the signs of depression and anxiety often show up differently in youth, and when detected, getting them the social services and psychological help they need,” said Award-Winning Author and Licensed Counselor Roy Petitfils.
For the study, the team of researchers used an income-to-needs ratio in order to calculate the poverty levels of children. Currently, the U.S. federal poverty level in the U.S. is $24,250 annually for a family of four.
Through the study, the researchers also found one of the potential pathways through which poverty could increase the likelihood of emotional disorders.
This research could provide crucial insight for parents on their everlasting quest, learning how to understand teenagers better and the way their cognitive processes form.