Household Instability in Childhood and the Risk of Depression

“Neuroscientists have pushed forward knowledge about how the body reacts to stress in recent decades. In particular, they now understand that only a limited number of physiologic variables, such as pH, body temperature, glucose levels and oxygen tension, must remain in homeostasis, i.e., within set and narrow limits. In contrast, there is much in our physiology that can achieve allostasis, i.e., new stasis. This means that the things that happen in our lives can change our bodily systems and how they function.

New research by Felicia Hardy and colleagues published in June in Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience explains how the allostasis created by household instability before age 5 increases the risk of depression by age 21. What makes this new work so different from social science research linking childhood instability with adverse outcomes is that Hardy’s team was able to describe how household instability changes children’s brains. That is, they were able to describe the allostasis that is created in children’s brains as an adaptation to household instability, and how that allostasis is more vulnerable to depression in adulthood than brain development associated with childhood stability.”