The Impact Of Child Abuse On Mental Health

Abuse manipulates and twists a child’s natural sense of trust and love.


Child abuse is a blight upon our society, but it’s a reality that we’re increasingly having to tackle. The sad fact is, it’s so often behind closed doors and goes unreported – yet it has far-reaching consequences. Studies are beginning to demonstrate that child abuse can actually change the way in which the brain functions. It can leave victims emotionally scarred for life. It can and so often does leave children with long lasting mental health problems.

Results of a study conducted by The Royal College of Psychiatrists found that both male and female victims of child abuse had higher rates of psychiatric treatment during the study compared to general population controls.

“Rates were higher for childhood mental disorders, personality disorders, anxiety disorders and major affective disorders, but not for schizophrenia. Male victims were significantly more likely to have had treatment than females ” [1]

It’s clear from evidence, and to an extent common-sense, that child abuse leaves victims mentally suffering for a significant period of time. From my own personal experience (which I’ve very rarely spoken about), it’s impacted me significantly and has left me with numerous mental health issues that can almost entirely be attributed to the abuse I have faced throughout life and never really told people about other than counsellors and highly trusted friends/partners. I’m starting to recover, but it’s going slower than I’d like. But then again, there’s never a quick fix to mental health issues particularly when they’re so deeply ingrained.

There are things you can do to help children who may be in your life however. In my opinion the most significant impact you could have on a child’s life is by merely opening the doors of communication. It’s important that children feel as though they can talk to you and open up to you about things such as abuse they may be facing and mental health issues they may be battling internally. As the quote at the top of this post demonstrates, children are naturally born to love and trust and abuse can break that natural sense of what is in a way humanity. To combat the long lasting effects of trust issues it’s important to talk and make children feel reassured and as though they can trust you.

Another message I would give is, if you think something is wrong then act by reporting it to the appropriate authorities. It may turn out to have been nothing, but it’s better to be wrong about something and know that child is safe than it is to do nothing and be left feeling sorry and guilty.

All in all, child abuse leaves children turning into young adults with significant barriers to development due to mental health issues. It’s important we do more as a society to combat this perverse form of abuse, but it’s also important we talk more about the issues we face and open up those doors. There’s nothing worse than feeling as though you have nobody you can trust enough to talk to about things you may be battling, especially as a child. It’s a lonely world lacking trust, and we need to do something to tackle that.


[1] Spataro, J., Mullen, P., Burgess, P., Wells, D., & Moss, S. (2004). Impact of child sexual abuse on mental health: Prospective study in males and females. British Journal of Psychiatry, 184(5), 416-421. doi:10.1192/bjp.184.5.416

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