Kids Who are Abused are at Greater Risk for Mental Health Problems

With all the heartbreaking stories of children being sexually abused by men in powerful positions in churches and universities, we have to wonder what the results will be on the children. Studies have shown that there are lasting effects on these young people, and as they become adults, the consequences are even more apparent.

Neglected and Abused Children

The allegations of sexual abuse seem to be spreading across the country like wildfire, with more and more victims stepping forward and disclosing what they have kept hidden for so long. It’s not just sexual abuse that robs children of their childhood. Many kids in America today are physically and emotionally abuse and neglected. 3.7 million children in the U.S. are assessed for child abuse or neglect each year, and we can expect that number to be rather low, as many more incidences go unreported. (1)

Changes in Brain Activity

A study done in England and another one done at Yale University show that a change occurs in the minds of children who have been abused. Brain scans show changes in areas that regulate impulses and emotions. MRI scans also show that children who witness domestic violence have the same change in brain activity as soldiers who have been in combat. “Exposure to family violence is associated with altered brain functioning in the absence of psychiatric symptoms and these alterations may represent an underlying neural risk factor. We are only now beginning to understand how child abuse influences functioning of the brain’s emotional systems,” said Dr. Eamon McCrory of the University College London in Britain  (2)

“What these findings show is that experiences that people have early in life can really subsequently and fundamentally alter the way their brain develops,” said Philip Fisher, professor of psychiatry at the University of Oregon. “These kids, in spite of the fact that they didn’t have actual disorders, have the potential to be very vulnerable for problems over the course of their development.” (1)

The changes in a developing brain mean the child will suffer with long term effects. These children grow up to have mental health issues and along with them, substance abuse problems. An estimated 80 percent of young adults who have been abused meet the diagnostic criteria for at least one psychiatric disorder at age 21. (2)

Finding Help for Abused Children

Not only are children being abused and neglected in our country, but we are failing to find ways to help them recover from such distress. There is a huge shortage of child psychiatrists in the U.S. and many young adults with mental health disorders are instead being treated by primary care doctors who do not have the knowledge or experience needed to do so. “Identifying those at risk of multiple and long-lasting depressive episodes is crucial from a public health perspective,” Dr. Andrea Danese of Kings College said. “Therefore prevention and early therapeutic interventions targeting childhood maltreatment could prove vital in helping prevent the major health burden owing to depression.” (2)


(1) Child Abuse May Alter Structure of the Brain, Research Shows

(2) Child Abuse Changes the Brain  

Alcohol Abuse as a Risk Factor for and Consequence of Child Abuse

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