Glasgow University study on child abuse shows risk of mental disorders

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Children who have been abused are still at risk of developing mental health problems for up to 70 years after the abuse, according to a major study.

Research by the University of Glasgow has found a clear link between child abuse and psychological problems later in life, even among those who were not diagnosed with disorders in early adulthood.

The study looked at data from more than 56,000 participants and found that those who had experienced at least three forms of childhood abuse had the highest risk of all mental health problems – nearly twice the risk of people with no experience of abuse.

Emotional abuse and neglect had stronger associations with all mental disorders, followed by sexual and physical abuse.

Globally, more than a billion children and adolescents are victims of violence, and many more cases go unreported.

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The association between child abuse and all mental disorders was stronger in participants who drank heavily or in those who had few social visits.

The NSPCC estimates that for every child identified as in need of protection, eight more experience abuse.

Government data shows that the number of children enrolled in the Child Protection Register increased from 2,580 in 2019 to 2,654 in 2020, an increase of 3%. Common causes of concern were emotional and domestic violence, parental substance abuse and neglect.

Dr Frederick Ho, lead author of the University of Glasgow study, said: ‘Our study supports a series of existing findings which all demonstrate a clear association between child abuse and poor mental health outcomes. adulthood.

“We also show that those who reported excessive alcohol consumption were more vulnerable to mental disorders and behavior syndrome as a result of child abuse.

“This suggests that abused children who also have alcohol problems represent a subgroup particularly vulnerable to mental illness and should be better supported.

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“Our results indicate that the potential mental health consequences of child abuse are apparent up to 20 to 70 years after occurrence, even in people with no history of mental disorders in early adulthood. . ”

The study also explored a wide range of factors that could explain the link between child abuse and mental health issues later in life, but could not identify any strong mechanisms.

Dr Ho said, “As we have not identified strong mediators, preventing child abuse should be a priority to reduce the mental health burdens associated with abuse.”

The study “Child Abuse and Incident Mental Disorders in Middle Ages and Older: A Retrospective UK Biobank Cohort Study” is published in the Lancet Regional Health – Europe. The work was funded by the Wellcome Trust.


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