Mental Health | Psychiatric disorders lined to emotional maltreatment

Mental HealthMental Health | Emotional maltreatment may have stronger effects on the psyche of children and adolescents than physical abuse and neglect, suggest study results published online ahead of print in Child Maltreatment.


Difficult for outsiders to detect, emotional maltreatment is also known as mental cruelty, and can include parents’ subjecting their children to extreme humiliation, threatening to put them in a home, or blaming them for their own distress, the research team explained.


“We need to educate parents so that they take the child’s perspective more often,” said study leader Lars White, PhD, of the Leipzig University Hospital Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Psychotherapy, and Psychosomatics in Germany. “As recently as 30 years ago, the commonly held view was that children should be left to cry, and that what they experience in childhood they forget anyway. But increasingly, there is a complete shift in attitudes and an appreciation that we need to reach out to the youngest children when they are showing difficult emotions, such as being angry or sad.”


Using structural equation modeling, researchers analyzed the relative effects of emotional maltreatment, abuse (physical and sexual), and neglect (physical, supervisory, and moral-legal/educational) in 778 children ages 3 through 16 years from Leipzig and Munich, Germany. Among them, 306 had an experience of maltreatment — emotional maltreatment was reported by 80%, making it the most frequent form of abuse.


In children between the ages of 3 and 8, emotional maltreatment led primarily to externalizing disorders and behavioral problems, the research team reported. In older children, emotional maltreatment had strong effects on the likelihood of developing internalizing disorders, such as depression and anxiety.


Mental HealthThe findings show that the risk of developing psychiatric disorders after maltreatment is already heightened by the early and middle childhood years, signaling a need for early intervention.


“Our study findings clearly show that emotional maltreatment is not only a very common form of maltreatment, but also one with psychiatric consequences that are similar to or even more severe than other forms of maltreatment,” said Dr White.


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