Nadine Burke Harris: How childhood trauma affects health across a lifetime

Childhood trauma isn’t something you just get over as you grow up. In this 16-minute TED Talk, pediatrician Nadine Burke Harris explains that the repeated stress of abuse, neglect and parents struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues has real, tangible effects on the development of the brain.

This unfolds across a lifetime, to the point where those who’ve experienced high levels of trauma are at triple the risk for heart disease and lung cancer. This is an impassioned plea for pediatric medicine to confront the prevention and treatment of trauma, head-on.


  1. This was such an eye opening talk. I always knew that my adult issues were related to my childhood; however, I have not found the needed medical relief needed. I’ve tired so many different modalities to try and heal. Now the notion that I had/have actual changes to my body make total sense. This has been a lifetime of struggle to get/feel well and healthy. How do you find a medical team to help you as an adult?


  2. Thanks Nadine, means a lot as I’ve a chronic disease since 17 (RA, an auto-immune disease) for which there also still now cure, & this is even more frustrating for patients as like anyone, we too seek causes for which ‘scientific medicine’ can’t answer me 30yrs on. It’s high time to break moulds & there is a need to broaden outlooks and look at ‘life balance’, let alone accountability of past actions! I’ve patiently done what medics have advised all these years, with no real headway as to ’cause’ & dealing with the ‘effects’ I’m tired of not knowing any different! I’ve had this nagging ‘feeling’ that has been telling me to look back to childhood… I was on the cusp of child-adulthood when diagnosed… so logic alone should deduce this, & yes genetics too, but what else? Childhood circumstances, and psychology related thereto? It has to be!!! (at least for me) as I’m loosing patience waiting for a ‘miracle’ cure (now too late as I have so many secondary issues). I continue to educate myself about my disease & seek answers, but whenever I’ve tried raising ’cause/s’ with health professionals, it’s usually glossed over by saying it could well be however there is no conclusive evidence! Well then do the research, run programmes to help support… where is that action? I sometimes wonder who is denial? Or has society at large become so complacent & comfortable not wanting to push/ test new theories, & the cynic pops up who says it’s doesn’t make economic sense to do otherwise. Now wait one minute! Don’t we all deserve to lead a ‘healthy, productive, pain free life – physically & mentally? Who needs to take accountability? … to hear about all your work & conclusions was so uplifting but in the next breathe deflating… as to hear yet again that it hasn’t been accepted more widely nor any programme ‘rolled’ out nationally let alone internationally… not many ‘listen’ or is it they don’t want to ‘hear’?…what will it take?… how many more need to suffer?… WHO will it take to turn the tide?… yes it needs mass movement… but when health systems are setup where one is ‘contesting’ to find ones place in the ‘order’ of who deserves most attention, it’s lands us against each other instead of being a unified force of those who are chronically ill, who deserve to be heard & are entitled to equitable attention. Is it okay for society at large to live in this position? Diplomatically, it comes down to those who are ‘ill’ versus those who are ‘healthy’. I’m not forgetting those of you who trying otherwise, but when will it change? Just what will it take? For once you become ill there is so much to deal with that just a little help earlier rather than later would make all the difference, and yes too maybe even for those who are currently ‘well’, heaven forbid,but one doesn’t know what tomorrow may bring? Those who are ‘healthy’ are in the fortunate position to have many more life choices than some of us! There has to something more, a bigger picture, that the 21century needs to uncover… or make a priority. In the past 15-20years there have been almost unimaginable breakthroughs in technology & social media (internet, mobile phones, Facebook, Twitter)… let’s live in hope that this starts a new ‘revolution’ to help in psycho-social aspects in broader society, with individual impacts in especially areas of healthcare and ‘family’. Many more TED talks on prime time TV! There are similar issues societies are grappling with no matter gender, race, religion, nationality or economic standing? For what is it to be ‘human’ after all?

    Please feel free NOT to post or edit accordingly, I didn’t mean this to be essay!


  3. Yes! Thank you for this excellent presentation. As a psychotherapist, I encounter this profile regularly in practice. It is largely misunderstood and minimized. Yet, it is critical to understand in order to help clients/patients heal and to interrupt the intergenerational transmission of abuse.


  4. As a person with a doctorate in Psychology, I am so excited to hear this talk. I am going to use it with educators and send to local pediatricians. I have been teaching on this since ACE’s came out. THIS IS AWESOME!!!


  5. An excellent ACES presentation. Primary prevention of ACES, begins during pregnancy and continues on from the 1st day of life to 1) raise awareness about ACES among parents, their families, neighbors and community, 2) identify and foster resilience in parents, and 3) inspire all to observe and enjoy being in the presence of infants whose rapidly developing brains are the most complex of all living things.


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