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Health

University of Iowa Study Finds Psychological Child Abuse Has Long-Term Effects

abuse-mental-health-depression
Anthony Tran
/
Unsplash
A new study led by a University of Iowa researcher found psychological child abuse has more long-term effects than other forms of abuse.

A new study lead by a University of Iowa researcher found psychological child abuse is associated with the greatest amount of negative long-term effects as compared to other forms of abuse like physical and sexual.

A new study lead by a University of Iowa researcher found psychological child abuse is associated with the greatest amount of negative long-term effects as compared to other forms of abuse.

The study, which was published in the journal Pediatrics this month, used data collected by Australian researchers on 5,200 children over the first two decades of their lives.

Researchers analyzed the data to find outcomes associated with sexual, psychological and physical abuse, and found children who endured psychological abuse, which included emotional abuse and neglect, had the most long-term adverse effects.

Lane Strathearn, a University of Iowa professor of pediatrics and psychiatry and the lead author on the study, said psychological abuse is tied to mental health issues like post-traumatic stress disorder, drug abuse, teen pregnancy as well as physical health outcomes like sleep issues and long-term growth problems.

"IQ proxies, educational attainment, employment status, attention problems were all very closely associated with psychological maltreatment," he said.

But Strathearn said psychological abuse is much less likely to be reported to authorities because it’s often not as obvious as other types of abuse.

"When kids come in with bruises or broken bones or, you know, brain hemorrhages, rightly enough, we pay attention to that," he said. "But the wounds that are associated with psychological maltreatment are on the inside. They're not as obvious to us."

Iowa has recently had several high-profile child abuse cases that gained attention following the release of state ombudsman's reports, including the case of 16-year-old Sabrina Ray and 16-year-old Natalie Finn, who both starved to death under the care of their adoptive parents.

Child abuse prevention advocates have expressed concerns over a recent decrease in reports. They have pointed to the face that school employees make many of these reports and many children are not attending school in-person because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Strathearn said people who have long-term relationships with families like pediatricians or school employees are more likely to spot psychological abuse. He said programs that assist families with young children can help spot and prevent abuse when kids are young.

"We need to identify the signs before they become a serious adolescent mental health problem," he said. "We need to provide support for families in early infancy. That's where we need to be directing our attention."