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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Connecting Child Abuse To Mental Illness

“Child abuse casts a shadow the length of a lifetime.”
This statement is attributed to Herbert Ward, an Episcopal priest who once ran St. Jude’s Ranch for Children, located in Boulder City, Nevada. Father Ward ran St. Jude's from 1970 until 2000. We can surmise that he spent those 30 years witnessing the long term affects of child abuse, tending to the children that thankfully somehow found their way to St. Jude's Ranch for Children.  However, this post is not about St. Jude's, but about the intuitive insight expressed by Father Ward.

Early last week, July 2, 2012, the multiple media outlets' printed and on-line headlines read like ABC News': Spanking Kids Leads to Adult Mental Illnesses. (more related articles shown below) 

English: Rib fractures in an infant secondary ...
English: Rib fractures in an infant secondary to child abuse (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The study quoted was undertaken by University of Manitoba located in Winnipeg.  They were not studying Canadian subjects, but instead:

"Afifi and colleagues turned to the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions, which included a representative sample of civilian, non-institutionalized adults in the U.S. The second wave of the survey, conducted between 2004 and 2005, included 34,653 adults, 20 or older, and asked about current mental conditions, as well as the past incidence of physical punishments."
Here are some of the specific statistics provided in the ABC News' report, which includes results of not only physical abuse, but also non-abusive physical discipline:
  • The risk of major depression was 41 percent higher; 
  • The risk of mania was 93 percent higher;
  • The risk of any mood disorder was 49 percent higher;
  • The risk of any anxiety disorder was 36 percent higher;
  • The risk of any alcohol abuse or dependence was 59 percent higher;
  • The risk of any drug abuse or dependence was 53 percent higher.
Are you shocked? Probably not. Most likely we have all witnessed friends or relatives that were physically abused as children and then as they matured suffered from mental disorders or addiction. Certainly, among those working in the mental health and addiction industry often find a history of physical or mental abuse amongst their patients. It can take a lot of time for a person entering mental health and/or addiction treatment to come to terms with their childhood experiences.  Everyone wants to remember only the "good" part of their childhood. As children, we want to be loved and cared for and we want to believe that our parents/caregivers love us. We make excuses for our parents; we defend our parents and other significant adults in our lives (including teachers, coaches, neighbors, clergy, spouses, partners, etc).

This study is a great conversation starter. It provides a "reboot" for all parents and caregivers. Take the time to read these articles, particularly if you are just beginning to consider parenthood. If you are already a parent, take some time out to find positive ways to discipline your children, teaching them respect for you, themselves and life. For sure, being informed "can't hurt!" But it can shorten the shadow.
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