For kids, psychological abuse may leave deepest scars HEALTH 37

Emotional damage more severe than physical or sexual abuse
For kids, psychological abuse may leave deepest scars
NEW YORK, Oct 25, (RTRS):
Psychological cruelty to children from
parents or caregivers can cause as much
— or even more — emotional damage
than physical and sexual abuse, according to a new US study.
The diagnosis is being overlooked and
undertreated compared to physical forms
of abuse, researchers say.
“When you look at symptom severity,
there was no difference between the three
forms of maltreatment,” said Joseph
Spinazzola, lead author of the study.
Psychological trauma is different from
“dysfunctional parenting,” where moms
or dads periodically lose their tempers.
“It’s sort of living in this situation
where they’re not receiving any kind of
love or warmth and instead they’re
receiving either hostility, threats or
impossible demands, almost as if they are
an enemy or monster, a pathetic unlovable creature . . . .,” said Spinazzola,
executive director of The Trauma Center
at Justice Resource Institute in Brookline,
Massachusetts.The study used the
National Child Traumatic Stress Network
Core Data set to analyze the cases of
5,616 youth with histories of psychological, physical or sexual abuse.
The children were ages 2 to 10 at the
start of the data collection, which took
place from 2004 to 2010. Forty-two percent were boys and 62 percent had a history of psychological abuse.
The children and their parents or caregivers were interviewed by clinicians and
also answered questions about behavioral
issues and trauma on questionnaires.
All three groups of children had scores
in the same general range for so-called
“internalizing problems,” like social
withdrawal, sadness, loneliness, difficulty concentrating or sleeping, and symptoms like headaches or stomachaches.
But children who had been psychologically abused were more likely to have
negative outcomes over the long-term
than victims of physical or sexual abuse.
They were 92 percent more likely to
have trouble with substance abuse, 78
percent more likely to be depressed, 80
percent more likely to experience separation anxiety disorder and 92 percent more
likely to be anxious, according to a paper
scheduled for an upcoming issue of the
journal Psychological Trauma: Theory,
Research, Practice, and Policy.
Compared to children who had been
sexually abused, the psychological abuse
group was also 65 percent more likely to
have academic problems, 91 percent
more likely to engage in criminal activity,
47 percent more likely to injure themselves and 147 percent more likely to
have attachment problems.
“One thing that struck me was that, of
the forms of trauma measured by this
core data set, psychological abuse was
the most enduring form of maltreatment,”
Spinazzola said. “When psychological
abuse co-occurred with the other two, the
presence of psychological abuse heightened the negative effects to a greater
magnitude than when they occurred in
the absence of psychological abuse.”
But psychological abuse is often overshadowed by physical and sexual abuse,
the researchers note. In one previous
study, only 7.6 percent of psychological
abuse was reported to child welfare agencies. Other research found psychological
abuse was investigated only 36 percent of
the time (compared to 53 percent of physical abuse cases and 55 percent of sexual
“I think there’s a hesitancy to label a
parent as engaging in psychological
abuse because of that fear of unfairly
blaming a parent for just being human
and imperfect,” said Spinazzola.
Bullied lesbian, gay and bisexual high
school students are less likely to fight and
attempt suicide when they feel connected
to an adult at school, suggests a new study.
Helping these lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) kids develop meaningful connections with adults at school could minimize the negative impacts of cyber and
school bullying, researchers say.
“The findings of our study highlight
the difference teachers can make in the
lives of LGB (and transgender) youth
who are victims of bullying,” said Jeffrey
Duong, the study’s lead author from the
John Hopkins Bloomberg School of
Public health in Baltimore.
Duong co-authored the paper with
Catherine Bradshaw, who is an associate
dean at the Curry School of Education at
the University of Virginia in
“Simple gestures such as reaching out
to sexual minority youth who might have
been victimized, and developing meaningful and supportive connections with
them, might buffer them from the consequences of bullying,” Duong told Reuters
Health in an email.
Duong and Bradshaw examined information from 951 self-identified LGB
high school students who completed the
New York City Youth Risk Behavioral
Survey during the fall of 2009.