Mental Abuse Causes Lifelong Damage To Kids, As Bad As Physical Or Sexual Abuse, Study Says

Mental or psychological abuse is an issue experts say is “insidious,” and the damage inflicted can affect a child for life, a new study published in the medical journal Pediatrics reveals.

US News World Report cited the new mental abuse study as well as experts who commented on the research, which sheds light on the long-term effects of “suboptimal” child treatment, ranging from insulting or belittling a child to merely not giving them enough attention.

But when mental abuse is at play, finding and pinpointing the symptoms or signs may be difficult for pediatricians or even parents who may be unwittingly damaging a child to pin down or notice. Study co-author Dr. Harriet MacMillan is a professor in the departments of psychiatry, behavioral neurosciences and pediatrics at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, and she explains that raising awareness of the issue is the first step in protecting kids from its lifelong impact:

“The main message for child health clinicians and people working with children is that psychological maltreatment is just as harmful as other types of maltreatment.”

MacMillan continues, describing how the effects of psychological abuse on kids are as serious as other forms of abuse:

“We know that exposure to other types of maltreatment like physical and sexual abuse can be associated with a broad range of types of impairment in physical and mental health, and cognitive and social development… Similarly, we see these types of impairments associated with psychological maltreatment.”

mental abuse of children

Alec Miller is chief of child and adolescent psychology at Montefiore Medical Center, in New York City. Miller says that physical abuse has far more obvious markers, where as mental abuse may not be as clearly identified:

“If you see someone getting beaten, we all know it’s against the law… It’s demarcated as illegal and very unhealthy. Some of these other things are a little more slippery. If there is no bruising physically, it’s harder to be convinced there is abuse.”

Per the study, around four percent of adult males and eight to nine percent of adult females indicate they were treated in a manner that would be considered psychologically abusive when they were children.