Childhood maltreatment associated with multiple mental health problems

summary: Researchers have identified a causal effect between child abuse and an increased risk of mental health disorders.

Source: UCL

A new study led by researchers at the University of California has found that being abused or neglected during childhood can cause many mental health problems.

Research published in American Journal of Psychiatryseeks to examine the causal effects of child maltreatment on mental health by accounting for other genetic and environmental risk factors, such as family history of mental illness and socioeconomic disadvantage.

The first research of its kind analyzed 34 quasi-experimental studies, involving more than 54,000 people.

Quasi-experimental studies can better identify cause and effect in observational data, using specialized samples (eg, identical twins) or innovative statistical techniques to exclude other risk factors. For example, in identical twin samples, if the abused twin has mental health problems but the non-abused twin does not, the link cannot be due to genes or family environment shared between the twins.

Across 34 studies, researchers found small effects of child maltreatment on a range of mental health problems, including internalizing disorders (such as depression, anxiety, self-harm, and suicide attempt), and externalizing disorders (such as alcohol and drug abuse, ADHD, and behavior problems). ) and psychosis.

These effects were consistent regardless of the method used or the way maltreatment and mental health were measured.

The results indicate that preventing eight cases of child abuse would prevent one person from developing mental health problems.

Corresponding author, Dr. Jessie Baldwin (Psychology and Language Sciences UCLA), said:

“Child maltreatment is known to be associated with mental health problems, but it was not clear whether this relationship was causal, or could be better explained by other risk factors.

This study provides robust evidence to suggest that child maltreatment has small causal effects on mental health problems. Although small, the effects of such abuse can have far-reaching consequences, given that mental health problems predict a host of poor outcomes, such as unemployment, physical health problems, and premature deaths.

Thus, interventions that prevent maltreatment are not only essential for childcare, but may also prevent long-term suffering and financial costs due to mental illness.

However, the researchers also found that part of the overall risk of mental health problems in abused individuals is due to pre-existing vulnerabilities – which may include other adverse environments (such as social and economic disadvantage) and genetic liability.

It shows a sad little boy
The results indicate that preventing eight cases of child abuse would prevent one person from developing mental health problems. The image is in the public domain

“Our findings also suggest that to reduce the risk of mental health problems in individuals subjected to abuse, clinicians must address not only the experience of abuse, but also pre-existing psychological risk factors,” said Dr. Baldwin.

Researchers defined childhood abuse as any physical, sexual or emotional abuse or neglect before the age of 18.

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The study was funded by Wellcome and in collaboration with King’s College London, University of Lausanne, Yale Medical School, University of Bristol, NIHR Biomedical Research Center and University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust.

Study limitations

Each of the quasi-experimental studies analyzed may be subject to potential biases. However, the results were consistent across studies using different quasi-experimental methods, indicating that the results are robust.

In addition, it has not been possible to draw firm conclusions about the specific effects of different types of abuse, since it is common for different types of abuse/neglect to occur at the same time, and studies rarely explain this.

The lack of available data meant that it was not possible to study the effects of timing of abuse, the time interval between abuse and mental health issues, or differences between racial or ethnic groups. Future semi-experimental research is needed to address these questions.

About this research on mental health and child abuse

author: Poppy Danby
Source: UCL
Contact: Bobby Danby – UCL
picture: The image is in the public domain

Original search: Results will appear in American Journal of Psychiatry

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