child psychology

Emotional Abuse Can Be As Damaging As Sexual Abuse

Photo: Dennis Slape/Corbis

Some depressing news for your afternoon: Kids who are emotionally abused suffer the same mental-health consequences as those who are physically or sexually abused — and in some cases, psychologically abused kids may actually fare worse. That’s the takeaway of a sobering new report from the American Psychological Association that was just published in the journal Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy.

Psychological abuse” covers a wide variety of mistreatment, including parents bullying kids, exerting excess control over them, or insulting or threatening them; at the other end of the spectrum, isolating or ignoring kids is also considered to be psychological abuse.

Researchers used the National Child Traumatic Stress Network Core Data Set to examine the mental-health histories of 5,616 children who’d suffered some form of abuse. Here’s what they found, according to the press release:

Children who had been psychologically abused suffered from anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, symptoms of post-traumatic stress and suicidality at the same rate and, in some cases, at a greater rate than children who were physically or sexually abused. Among the three types of abuse, psychological maltreatment was most strongly associated with depression, general anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, attachment problems and substance abuse.

While physical abuse often brings telltale markers, psychological abuse is often harder to detect. “Also, psychological abuse isn’t considered a serious social taboo like physical and sexual child abuse,” said lead study author Joseph Spinazzola, a clinician at the Trauma Center at Justice Resource Institute in Brookline, Massachusetts. But the invisible toll of emotional torment is damaging, too, and Spinazzola and the APA make the case that it’s time we paid them more attention.

Emotional Abuse Can Be As Damaging As Sex Abuse