Your Past

What’s happened in your past can affect you today.

Your Childhood

Not everyone is brought up in a mostly stable and loving family (whānau). If you had a lot of ongoing challenging experiences in your childhood, it could have an impact on your mental health later in life.

It’s well known that tough stuff in childhood can lead to distress in children and adults. Experiences such as parents splitting up, the death of a family member or friend, drug or alcohol use, and money problems can all increase the risk of depression and anxiety.

Another big risk factor for depression and anxiety is childhood trauma. If you’ve seen a family member being abused physically, emotionally, or sexually, or you are a victim of abuse yourself, the effect can be serious and long-lasting.

Children who grow up in a violent and abusive environment are likely to see the world as an unpredictable, frightening, and often dangerous place. If nothing is done about it, the response of fear, helplessness, anger, and upset can continue into adulthood.

It’s important to know that a tough childhood is no sure sign that you’ll experience depression or anxiety later in life. Distress is usually related to a combination of factors, and we all have things that help protect us against the effect of challenging experiences, such as loving parents or good friends.

Talking therapy may be the way to go if you think it would be good to talk to someone about childhood trauma.

Family history

There is evidence that shows that an increased risk of depression or anxiety may be genetic.

Depression and anxiety can be common in families. But just because a member has had depression or anxiety at some stage doesn’t mean that you will too. Even if you do have a history of depression or anxiety, there is plenty you can do to improve your resilience (inner strength).

When thinking about family history, it’s worth going back further than to our parents or grandparents. Things that happened generations back can also affect us today. This ‘intergenerational trauma’ can be passed down without you knowing it and have an impact on your mental health now. For example, the loss of land or injustice can be felt down through the generations. It’s important to remember that the strengths of your ancestors are also passed down to you. Their ability to get through hardship is yours, too.

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