Kids who are emotionally abused and neglected face similar and at times worse mental health problems than children who are physically or sexually abused, a new study indicates.
"Given the prevalence of childhood psychological abuse and the severity of harm to young victims, it should be at the forefront of mental health and social service training," said study lead author Joseph Spinazzola, from the trauma centre at the Justice Resource Institute in Brookline, Massachusetts.
Researchers analysed data from 5,616 youth with lifetime histories of one or more of three types of abuse: psychological maltreatment (emotional abuse or emotional neglect), physical abuse and sexual abuse.
The majority (62%) had a history of psychological maltreatment and nearly a quarter (24%) of all the cases were exclusively psychological maltreatment in the form of bullying, terrorising, coercive control, severe insults, threats, overwhelming demands, shunning and/or isolation.
"Children who had been psychologically abused suffered from anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, symptoms of post-traumatic stress and suicidal tendencies at the same rate and, in some cases, at a greater rate than children who were physically or sexually abused," Spinazzola noted.
Moreover, sexual and physical abuse had to occur at the same time to have the same effect as psychological abuse alone.
"Psychological abuse is not considered a serious social taboo like physical and sexual child abuse. We need public awareness initiatives to help people understand just how harmful psychological maltreatment is for children and adolescents," Spinazzola commented.
The article appeared in the journal Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy.