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Scared Sick: The Role of Childhood Trauma in Adult Disease

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The first years of human life are more important than we ever realized. In Scared Sick, Robin Karr-Morse connects psychology, neurobiology, endocrinology, immunology, and genetics to demonstrate how chronic fear in infancy and early childhood— when we are most helpless—lies at the root of common diseases in adulthood.

Compassionate and based on the latest research, Scared Sick will unveil a major public health crisis. Highlighting case studies and cutting-edge scientific findings, Karr- Morse shows how our innate fight-or-flight system can injure us if overworked in the early stages of life. Persistent stress can trigger diabetes, heart disease, obesity, depression, and addiction later on.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Coauthors of Ghosts from the Nursery: Tracing the Roots of Violence, family therapist Karr-Morse and crime-prevention expert Wiley look at the lifelong ripple effects of trauma from before birth through early childhood on physical and emotional health, and on cognitive functioning. They define “trauma” broadly to include not only dramatic and often violent events, such as physical abuse, but more subtle, gradual ones, such as a mother’s emotional neglect of her young child. With a particular interest in the first years of life—“what happens before age two permanently affects our health, including the aging process”—the authors cite dozens of recent studies to support their argument and consider research from the emerging field of epigenetics (how genes are affected by environmental factors). This is an information-packed book, but contains little anecdotal material. Although appendixes include advice on seeking therapy and other resources for parents, its wealth of scientific data may make it most suitable for medical professionals, researchers, and social scientists. But the authors do make a very persuasive case that preventive measures should be taken to eliminate or mitigate early trauma, which can “literally change our minds by altering the DNA that controls brain functions.” (Jan.)
From the Publisher

Publishers Weekly
“information-packed….the authors do make a very persuasive case that preventive measures should be taken to eliminate or mitigate early trauma” 

Kirkus Reviews
“A wake-up call? Absolutely.”

Daniel J. Siegel, MD, Executive Director, Mindsight Institute, Clinical Professor, UCLA School of Medicine, and author of Mindsight
“Karr-Morse and Wiley have done it again! Scared Sick raises many profound and urgent questions about how stress during the earliest moments of our lives—in utero and out in the world—can create lasting negative impacts on the health of our bodies and minds. While many of the exact details remain to be clarified with further research, this book’s summary of the science of stress creates a call to action that is quite clear: We need to awaken ourselves to the importance of both preventing toxic stress early in life and helping the many who have been affected during these early years to have the healing support that is available in the form of social connections and mindful reflective skills that can lead us in new and helpful directions in our collective lives.”
Vincent J. Felitti, MD, Founder, The California Institutes of Preventive Medicine
Scared Sick is useful, highly readable, scientifically advanced, and relevant to all of us in better understanding our lives, especially how our earliest life experiences can translate into health and disease over the decades. Another impressive book by Robin Karr-Morse with Meredith Wiley.”
David Lawrence, Jr., President of The Early Childhood Initiative Foundation and former publisher of The Miami Herald
Ghosts from the Nursery helped me decide—more than a decade ago—to retire to devote all my energies to ‘school readiness’ issues. The thesis of Scared Sick energizes me further. Within is an abundance of information and wisdom—about fetuses who feel pain, prenatal depression, trauma and the Unabomber, the mixed blessings of child care, and much more. The book is a splendid blend of sense and science.”

Shelf Awareness
Scared Sick makes an erudite, well-considered case…. a must-read for pediatricians and mental-health counselors working with children and families…. A cogent examination of the changing role of childhood trauma on lifelong health.”

Library Journal
According to family therapist Karr-Morse and crime-prevention expert Wiley, the epidemics of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, addiction, and depression all have their roots in childhood trauma. The stress of living with abuse and chronic fear affect the immune and nervous systems, triggering the fight-flight-freeze response that evolved to protect us from danger. While life is considerably less dangerous now than when the trait first appeared, the constant stress that accompanies living in a high-tech environment keeps it active. Karr-Morse and Wiley argue that children growing up in these stressful, traumatic environments are at high risk for chronic diseases. They offer a plan to counteract these debilitating effects: attachment parenting to establish strong relationships, self-regulation, safety, appropriate therapy and medical treatment, and the return to a holistic rather than fragmented health-care system. A series of appendixes addresses preventing childhood trauma during divorce and lists diseases caused by mistreatment in childhood, symptoms of childhood trauma, guidelines for working with traumatized children, and effective programs and policies. VERDICT This thought-provoking book will be useful for professionals working with at-risk children.—Barbara M. Bibel, Oakland P.L.
Kirkus Reviews
Investigation of the importance of attachment between baby and caretaker--usually the mother--in setting the path to physical and mental health. In a follow-up to their Ghosts from the Nursery: Tracing the Roots of Violence (1998), family therapist Karr-Morse and Wiley, state director of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids in New York, write that without that bond, there is danger that a baby will be stressed, triggering the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis and flooding the baby's developing nervous system with flight-or-fight hormones. The baby, unable to flee or fight, may succumb to trauma, defined as being frozen in fear. Such trauma is the root of being "scared sick": suffering ills that may not appear until later in life. Among many others, these can include autism, Alzheimer's, addiction, ADHD, schizophrenia, PTSD, suicide, chronic pain, obesity, heart disease, diabetes and cancer. The authors look at scores of surveys, correlations, retrospective analyses, animal studies and expert opinions, laced with dramatic statistics. They do not ignore poverty, nutrition, illness, injury or other negative risk factors, but the first half of the book is such an overwhelming recital of trauma's legacy that it may arouse skepticism in some facts. To be sure, infancy and toddlerhood are critical times in development, and the authors are solidly in the line of such pioneers as John Bowlby and Harry Harlow. Karr-Morse and Wiley shore up their thesis with a chapter indicating that in infancy the more emotional right brain develops at a faster rate than the left, as well as a chapter on epigenetics to explain how trauma may reset which genes are turned off or on. Finally, the authors provide an array of therapies and resources to ameliorate the effects of trauma, most involving some physical actions and establishing trust with the therapist. A wake-up call? Absolutely. Readers don't need to buy all the data to get the message, especially where events in America and abroad conspire to increase child poverty and deprivation.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465013548
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 1/3/2012
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 321,403
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Robin Karr-Morse is a family therapist and the former Director of Parents Training for the Oregon Child Welfare System. She lives in Portland, Oregon.

Meredith S. Wiley is the State Director of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids New York. She lives in Albany, New York.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 2 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 18, 2013


    and informative

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 7, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

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