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Severe deprivation in early childhood can affect mental health in adulthood

Severe deprivation and neglect in childhood can have a psychological impact on early adulthood, new study results suggest.

Severe deprivation and neglect in childhood can have a psychological impact on early adulthood, new study results suggest.


Romanian adoptees who spent longer than six months in an institution as children had
higher rates of mental health problems as adults. Picture: Alamy 

The English and Romanian Adoptees Study tracks the mental health and cognitive development of 165 children adopted from Romanian institutions into UK families in the 1990s. The children were followed throughout childhood and compared with 52 children adopted within the UK. 

Children in the institutions experienced poor hygiene, insufficient food, little personalised care and no social or cognitive stimulation, whereas the UK families who adopted them between the ages of two weeks and 43 months were socio-economically advantaged, stable and caring. 

The latest part of the study followed the adoptees from ages 22-25 years. It involved 50 Romanian adoptees who spent less than six months in an institution, 72 who spent more than six months in an institution and 39 UK adoptees. 

Careful planning 

The researchers found that Romanian adoptees who spent less than six months in an institution had similar rates of mental health symptoms as UK adoptees, but those who spent longer than six months in an institution had higher rates of social, emotional and cognitive problems throughout their lives, despite living in strong and supportive families for more than 20 years. 

The study authors said the findings could be relevant to the large numbers of children exposed to abusive or neglectful conditions around the world, and ‘highlight the importance of assessing patients from deprived backgrounds when providing mental health support, and carefully planning care when these patients transfer from child to adult mental health care'.


Sonuga-Barke E et al (2017) Child-to-adult neurodevelopmental and mental health trajectories after early life deprivation: the young adult follow-up of the longitudinal English and Romanian Adoptees study. The Lancet. doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(17)30045-4 

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