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Childhood Abuse and Neglect Linked with Mental Health Problems

Studies have shown that individuals who experienced abuse during childhood are more likely to develop depression, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), borderline personality disorder, and other mood and behavioral disorders.

Navigation: What is Childhood Maltreatment or Child Abuse?, New Study Finds Connection between Childhood Abuse and Mental Health Disorders, The Risk Factors for Mental Health Disorders, The Signs and Symptoms of Mental Health Disorders, Treatment for Mental Health Disorders, Rehab is Your Best Chance


Mental health disorder, also known as mental illness, refers to a wide range of health problems that affect a person’s mood, behavior, and way of thinking. The most common examples of mental health disorders are depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and bipolar disorder. Even addiction can be classified as a mental illness even though it usually co-occurs with other mental health problems.

It’s normal to have mental health concerns every now and then. But developing psychiatric disorders means that the person has ongoing or recurring symptoms that cause frequent stress. Having a mental health problem can hinder your productivity and ability to function on a day to day basis. It can affect your relationships with other people. It can even extend into your physical health, causing medical problems.

While mental health problems are typically associated with adults, there are studies that suggest that these conditions may begin developing from childhood. It is important to explore the relationship between childhood maltreatment and mental health problems because these mental illnesses can make you miserable.

Childhood abuse has been linked to a wide range of mental health disorders in adulthood. Studies have shown that individuals who experienced abuse during childhood are more likely to develop depression, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), borderline personality disorder, and other mood and behavioral disorders.

Childhood abuse can cause significant psychological distress and trauma, which can affect the developing brain and lead to long-term changes in brain function and structure.

Additionally, childhood abuse can impair the development of social and coping skills, which can make it harder for individuals to manage stress and navigate relationships in adulthood.

The effects of childhood abuse can also be compounded by other factors such as poverty, family dysfunction, and social isolation. These factors can exacerbate the impact of abuse on mental health and increase the likelihood of developing mental health disorders later in life.

It is important to note that not everyone who experiences childhood abuse will develop a mental health disorder, and not all mental health disorders are caused by childhood abuse. However, childhood abuse is a significant risk factor for a range of mental health disorders, and addressing the effects of childhood abuse is an important part of mental health treatment and prevention.

Here we will focus on one particular study that explores how childhood abuse and neglect linked with mental health problems. Let’s take a closer look.


What is Childhood Maltreatment or Child Abuse?

Before we discuss the study, let’s define what childhood maltreatment is. Childhood maltreatment refers to any form of abuse or emotional neglect that a child may experience during their early development years.

The following are the types of childhood maltreatment recognized by most experts:

Physical abuse: This refers to any form of physical violence or harm done to a child, including hitting, beating, shaking, or burning.

Sexual abuse: This involves any sexual activity or contact with a child that is non-consensual or inappropriate.

Emotional abuse: This involves verbal or nonverbal behaviors that may harm a child’s emotional well-being, such as belittling, rejecting, or ignoring them.

Neglect: This occurs when a child’s basic needs for food, shelter, and medical care are not met or when they are left alone without adequate supervision.

Physical and sexual maltreatment can have long-lasting effects on a child’s physical, emotional, and psychological well-being. It is important to seek help and support if you suspect that a child is being maltreated or if you are a survivor of childhood maltreatment.


New Study Finds Connection between Childhood Abuse and Mental Health Disorders

A new study led by researchers from the University College London (UCL) found that multiple adverse childhood experiences can cause mental health problems. A child who has experienced neglect or abuse is at increased risk of having multiple mental health problems.

The research was published in the American Journal of Psychiatry. Their goal was to examine the effects of childhood physical abuse and neglect on mental health. Researchers accounted for both genetic and environmental risk factors such as family history of mental health problems as well as socioeconomic limitations.

The research analyzed over 54,000 people, including specialized samples like identical twins. Researchers found that child maltreatment is linked to a wide range of mental health problems like depression, anxiety, ADHD, substance use disorder, suicidal attempts, self-harm, and psychosis.

Across 34 studies, researchers found that the effects remained consistent no matter what kind of maltreatment the person experienced or what mental health problem they developed. For example, adults with depression report childhood maltreatment. It goes without saying that childhood maltreatment can have severe effects on a person’s physical and mental health.

“It is well known that child maltreatment is associated with mental health problems, but it was unclear whether this relationship is causal, or is better explained by other risk factors,” said corresponding author Dr. Jessie Baldwin of UCL Psychology & Language Sciences.

“This study provides rigorous evidence to suggest that childhood maltreatment has small causal effects on mental health problems. Although small, these effects of maltreatment could have far-reaching consequences, given that mental health problems predict a range of poor outcomes, such as unemployment, physical health problems and early mortality.”

The study also suggests that preventing child maltreatment can also prevent a person from developing mental health disorders in the future. By preventing maltreatment and neglect, the long-term consequences of mental illness can be avoided.

According to the researchers, those who had pre-existing vulnerabilities were much more likely to develop mental health problems after being exposed to maltreatment.

The study did have a few limitations. It was not possible for the researchers to determine the effects of the timing of maltreatment on the development of mental health issues. They were also unable to examine the differences between certain ethnic or racial groups. Further studies have to be conducted to address this lack of data.

The Risk Factors for Mental Health Disorders

Child abuse is definitely a huge problem, but unfortunately it is not the only risk factor people need to look out for when it comes to mental health disorders. There are plenty of other factors that can increase a person’s likelihood of developing a mental health disorder.

For starters, mental illness has a genetic component. A family history of mental health disorders can increase the risk of developing similar conditions.

There are also environmental risk factors such as poverty, work-related stress, and peer pressure. Going through stressful life situations like facing financial difficulties or getting in trouble with the law can contribute to poor mental health.

Early life experiences like abuse, neglect, and trauma can increase the risk of mental health disorders, but so can other traumatic experiences such as combat, sexual assault, and natural disasters. Speaking of trauma, having a personal history of traumatic brain injury is another risk factor.

Having certain medical conditions like chronic pain or chronic illness can also increase the likelihood of developing mental health disorders. The same can be said for any form of substance abuse, including alcohol and drug abuse.

It is important to take care of yourself to avoid mental health problems because poor nutrition and lack of sleep can also lead to these disorders.

Another noteworthy risk factor is social isolation. Lack of social support or feeling disconnected from others can increase the risk of mental health disorders.

Having negative relationships with other people can also be a risk factor. Aside from being abused or neglected as a child, you may also get into an abusive relationship or friendship. Maintaining a healthy social life can help protect you from mental illness.

Other risk factors include: grief, bullying, discrimination, and lack of access to support services.

It’s important to note that having these risk factors doesn’t necessarily mean that a person will develop a mental health disorder. However, you need to be aware of these factors and take steps to address them to reduce the risk of developing a mental health disorder.

The Signs and Symptoms of Mental Health Disorders

If you think someone you love is struggling with a mental health disorder, you need to help them get proper treatment. However, you can’t do this if you are not able to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental illness.

There are a wide range of mental health disorders, each with their own specific set of symptoms. You need to know what to watch out for.

For example, anxiety disorders may cause symptoms like excessive worrying, irritability, difficulty sleeping, panic attacks, and avoidance of certain situations.

Depression, bipolar disorder, and other mood disorders may cause symptoms like feeling sad or empty, changes in appetite and weight, fatigue, difficulty sleeping, irritability, and thoughts of suicide. They may even lose interest in activities they used to enjoy.

Schizophrenia is a condition wherein the person loses touch of reality. Symptoms may include delusions, hallucinations, disordered thinking and speech, and a lack of motivation.

People with personality disorders may have difficulty forming and maintaining relationships. They may also struggle with impulsivity, emotional instability, and a distorted sense of self.

Other potential symptoms of mental health problems include: confusion, extreme feelings of guilt, mood swings, social isolation, fatigue, anger, paranoia, hostility, violence, substance abuse, changes in eating habits, changes in sex drive, inability to understand situations or people, and inability to handle stress.

Sometimes mental health problems can also cause physical health problems like stomach pain, back pain, and headaches.

Not all individuals with a mental health disorder will exhibit the same symptoms. But generally speaking, loved ones are usually the first to notice significant behavioral changes. Even so, it is impossible to diagnose someone without the opinion of a mental health professional.

If you or someone you know is experiencing any of these warning signs, it is important to seek professional help from a mental health provider. Most mental illnesses do not improve on their own. Left untreated, they may get worse over time and cause even bigger problems.

Treatment for Mental Health Disorders

Mental illnesses are typically treated through a combination of therapies and medications. The specific treatment plan will depend on the type and severity of the mental illness.

People with mental health problems usually go through a variety of therapies like psychotherapy or talk therapy.

These therapies involve talking to a mental health professional in order to address and treat mental illness. Examples of psychotherapy include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and interpersonal therapy. These treatments allow the patient to understand their thoughts and behaviors, and even make the necessary changes by addressing the root causes of their problems.

During treatment, patients will also be taught various coping mechanisms that they can use to manage their condition. This will help them face life’s challenges without struggling from the symptoms of their mental health problems.

Other treatment programs also offer group therapy and family therapy. Group therapy involves meeting with other individuals who have similar mental health concerns, while family therapy involves working with family members.

Certain medications may also be used during the treatment process such as antidepressants, antipsychotics, anxiolytics, and mood stabilizers.

Antidepressants are used to treat depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders, while antipsychotics are for the treatment of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and other severe mental illnesses. Anxiolytics are used to treat anxiety disorders. Lastly, mood stabilizers can help people with mood disorders.

In some cases, alternative treatments such as exercise, meditation, and relaxation techniques can also help in managing mental illness.


Rehab is Your Best Chance

Treatment is an addicted individualʼs best option if they want to recover. Beating an addiction not only requires eliminating the physical dependence, but also addressing the behavioral factors that prevent them from wanting to get better. Simply quitting may not change the psychological aspect of addiction. Some people quit for a while, and then take drugs or alcohol again, only to overdose because they did not detox properly. Recovery involves changing the way the patient feels, thinks, and behaves.

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Fel Clinical Director of Content
Felisa Laboro has been working with addiction and substance abuse businesses since early 2014. She has authored and published over 1,000 articles in the space. As a result of her work, over 1,500 people have been able to find treatment. She is passionate about helping people break free from alcohol or drug addiction and living a healthy life.

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