Study results show that childhood abuse and neglect can cause mental health problems

The analysis focuses on causal effects while taking into account other environmental and genetic factors, such as family history and socioeconomic disadvantages.

Abuse or neglect in childhood can cause multiple mental health issuesAccording to the results of a study published in American Journal of Psychiatry.

The investigators from University College London aimed to examine the causal effects of child maltreatment and mental health taking into account other environmental and genetic factors, including family history of mental illness and socioeconomic disadvantage.

This study provides robust evidence to suggest that child maltreatment has small causal effects on mental health problems. Although the effects of this abuse are small, they can have far-reaching consequences, given that mental health problems predict a range of poor outcomes, such as unemployment, physical health problems and early deaths,” Jesse Baldwin, PhD, Sir Henry Wellcome Fellow at the University, said. College London in a statement.

“Interventions that prevent maltreatment are not only essential for childcare but can also prevent long-term suffering and financial costs due to mental illness,” she said.

The study involved an analysis of 34 quasi-experimental studies, including more than 54,000 individuals. A quasi-experimental study can help determine cause and effect in observational data, using specialized samples or innovative statistical techniques used to exclude other factors.

Across 34 studies, researchers found small effects of child abuse on a range of mental health issues, including attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. behavioral problems; internal disturbances, such as anxiety, depression, self-harm, and suicide attempt; extraneous disorders, including alcohol and drug abuse; and psychosis.

Investigators reported that the effects were consistent, regardless of which method they used or how they measured abuse and mental health. Results indicated that preventing 8 cases of child abuse would prevent 1 individual from developing mental health problems.

In addition, the investigators found that part of the overall risk of mental health issues in abused individuals was the result of pre-existing vulnerabilities, which can include adverse environments, such as socioeconomic disadvantages, and genetic liability.

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

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

Study limitations include potential biases from each of the quasi-experimental studies. However, the results were consistent across all studies using different methods, which indicates that the results are robust.

In addition, no firm conclusions can be drawn about the specific effects of types of abuse, because different types of abuse and neglect can co-occur. Studies have rarely taken this possibility into account.

The lack of available data meant that it was not possible to examine differences between racial and ethnic groups, the effects of the timing of abuse, or the interval between abuse and mental health issues.

The investigators called for future quasi-experimental research to help address some of these unanswered questions for the benefit of patients.


Childhood maltreatment associated with multiple mental health problems. EurekAlert. New release. January 11, 2023. Accessed January 11, 2023.

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