Eight-year-old Sahil (name changed) was so afraid of being beaten up by his mother that he was apprehensive about returning home from school. A psychologist who evaluated Sahil observed symptoms of depression.
“His mother beat him with a stick, a clothes hanger, threatened to put him on a hot gas. When I started talking to the woman, she revealed that her uncle had sexually abused her and her parents became abusive when she confided in them. She had very deep rooted anger,” said Seema Hingorani, psychologist, who is treating Sahil and his mother.
Mental health experts say that abusive parents often have some kind of mental disorder or have been abused as children. “The parents are usually suffering from schizophrenia, severe depression, and borderline personality disorders, among other issues,” said Dr Dayal Mirchandani, consulting psychiatrist. “Some also abuse children to get even with the spouse.”
According to doctors, a newborn can be neglected if the mother suffers from postpartum depression, which is caused by hormonal imbalance in the mother after childbirth.
“If the child is not gaining weight as desired despite no illness, we suspect postpartum depression in the mother. These mothers are not able to pay attention to the child and are too bogged down by depression,” said Dr Shobha Nair, secretary, Bombay Psychiatric Society.
Children with learning disability and attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) suffer the most, said doctors. “I have come across children who are branded, pinched, beaten up badly, suffer emotional abuse or are not given food because parents not able to understand that their child is not troubling them purposely,” said Dr Samir Dalwai, developmental pediatrician.
Psychologists said that children who are abused suffer from psychological problems later in life. “Each episode of abuse on a child causes a cluster of disturbing memories in brain that does not disappear,” Hingorani said.
Early intervention is the key to stopping the cycle of abuse. “The first time a case of abuse is detected, intervention is important. It could be in the form of counselling for parents, or getting grandparents to stay with the parents to share their burden,” said Dr Nilesh Shah, head of psychiatry, Sion Hospital.