Adults who had Stress in Childhood (4)

The long-term effects of childhood stress impact relationships and mood in adults.  The study* described in the last post surveyed 380 women who came to a general medical clinic.  In addition to questions about abuse in childhood, patients were surveyed about whether they had ever experienced intimate-partner violence (IPV) and also about depression.  (The vast majority of those who had experienced IPV were no longer in an abusive relationship.)

46% of the group physically or sexually abused as children had also experienced IPV as an adult compared to 20% of the group not abused as children.  This supports the idea that adults abused as children have a tendency to choose partners who treat them in a way that is consistent with their early difficult experience.

The child abuse group also had a 50% higher score on the part of the survey that measured depression.  55% of the child abuse group had at least mild symptoms of depression, compared to 28% of the not-abused group.  The child abuse group was also over three times as likely to be under care of a mental health professional as the not-abused group, indicating another important effect on health care use.

My practice experience is consistent with these research findings and leads me to conclude that significantly better health outcomes would result if:

  • Medical clinicians were trained to inquire routinely about past abuse
  • Patients accepted that real physical and mental symptoms can result from past abuse
  • Mental health professionals were given the opportunity to use their skills to assist people in overcoming the long-term consequences of past abuse.

* Nicolaidis, C et al.  Differences in Physical and Mental Health Symptoms and Mental Health Utilization Associated with Intimate-Partner Violence versus Childhood Abuse.      Psychosomatics 50:4, Jul-Aug 2009.

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