Childhood Abuse Linked To Many Negative Mental And Physical Health Outcomes

Written by Jim Folk
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Written by Jim Folk
Written by Jim Folk
Last updated July 11, 2022
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Research has found that childhood abuse, including physical, psychological, emotional, sexual, and spiritual, is a common underlying factor that leads to the development of many mental health problems, such as anxiety disorder, depression, personality disorders, and many others.

Childhood abuse is also a common underlying factor in the development of unhealthy relationships, low self-esteem, and issues with trust, to name a few.

Childhood abuse and adverse childhood experiences (ACE) take a toll on the person and society in general. Visit our Abuse Statistics article for the many ways abuse affects a person’s life and society. The toll is significant!

It was also thought that childhood abuse can lead to other negative outcomes, such as poor physical health. Research by University of Toronto researchers has recently confirmed abuse early in life can lead to poorer physical and mental health even decades after the abuse.

This research abstract states:

“Sadly, our findings suggest that the traumatic experience of childhood physical abuse can influence both physical and mental health many decades later. It also underlines the importance of assessing for adverse childhood experiences among patients of all ages, including older adults,” said Anna Buhrmann, who began this research for her undergraduate thesis in the Bachelor of Arts and Science program at McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario and is a research assistant at the Institute of Life Course & Aging at the University of Toronto.

The physical illnesses that developed included diabetes, cancer, migraines, arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, and chronic-obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The links between childhood abuse and poor physical and mental health persisted even after accounting for income, education, smoking, binge drinking, and other causes of poor health.

For more information, you can read the research’s abstract below. or the research itself here.

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Poor physical and mental health among older adults linked to childhood abuse history

Older adults who were physically abused as children were significantly more likely to develop chronic pain and chronic physical illness in later life according to a newly-released study by University of Toronto researchers. They were also twice as likely to develop depression and anxiety disorders compared to those without this early trauma.

“Sadly, our findings suggest that the traumatic experience of childhood physical abuse can influence both physical and mental health many decades later. It also underlines the importance of assessing for adverse childhood experiences among patients of all ages, including older adults,” said Anna Buhrmann, who began this research for her undergraduate thesis in the Bachelor of Arts and Science program at McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario and is a research assistant at the Institute of Life Course & Aging at the University of Toronto.

The physical illnesses that developed included diabetes, cancer, migraines, arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, and chronic-obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The links between childhood abuse and poor physical and mental health persisted even after accounting for income, education, smoking, binge drinking, and other causes of poor health.

“Health professionals serving older adults need to be aware that it is never too late to refer people for counseling. A promising intervention, cognitive behavioral therapy [CBT], has been tested and found effective at reducing post-traumatic stress disorder and depressive and anxiety symptoms among survivors of childhood abuse,” said co-author Professor Esme Fuller-Thomson, who supervised Buhrmann’s thesis research. Fuller-Thomson is Director of the Institute of Life Course & Aging at the University of Toronto’s Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work.

It was not possible for the cross-sectional study to determine the specific pathways through which experiencing physical abuse as a child affects an individual’s health later in life. Current studies suggest that childhood physical abuse effects several physiological changes, including the dysregulation of systems that regulate the response of the body to stress. Future prospective research investigating disruptions to these systems that are already linked to several physical and mental illnesses, such as abnormal levels of cortisol, may help to shed light on the experience of childhood abuse victims.

The data for this study were drawn from a representative sample of adults aged 60 and older in the Canadian province of British Columbia. It compared 409 older adults who reported a history of childhood physical abuse to 4,659 of their peers who reported they had not been physical abused during their youth. The data were drawn from the Canadian Community Health Survey.

The paper was published online this week in Aging Health and Research.

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The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist, coach, or counselor is the most effective way to address anxiety and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed – which we call the underlying factors of anxiety – a struggle with anxiety unwellness can return again and again. Dealing with the underlying factors of anxiety is the best way to address problematic anxiety.

Additional Resources

anxietycentre.com: Information, support, and coaching/counseling/therapy for problematic anxiety and its sensations and symptoms, including Childhood Abuse Linked To Many Negative Mental And Physical Health Outcomes.

References