Childhood abuse and neglect are painful, no matter what form they come in. Doctors and parents have historically believed that physical and/or sexual abuse causes more harm than emotional abuse or neglect, but a study done recently discovered that children suffer in much the same way no matter what type of maltreatment they went through.

Abused children suffer from all kinds of problems, from depression and anxiety to aggression and rule breaking. Different kinds of childhood abuse and neglect result in very similar problems, whether it’s physical or emotional abuse.

In this recent study, the researchers looked at nearly 2,300 children who went to a summer camp between 1986 and 2012 for children from low-income households. The purpose of the study was to compare the effects of different types of child abuse on the individual’s mental health. Approximately 1,200 children who attended this summer camp, just over half, had experienced some form of maltreatment.

All the kids attending the camp were assigned to a group of other kids their age. Around half the kids in each of the groups had a history of being mistreated. The kids had no idea which of the other campers in their group had suffered abuse.

Counselors along with other campers evaluated the behavior of each child during camp, plus every child also did a self-evaluation.

Study Results

For the most part, kids who had experienced childhood abuse and neglect showed much higher rates of anxiety, withdrawal, neuroticism, and depression than kids who had not been subjected to mistreatment.

This distinction held true for children who had suffered all kinds of childhood abuse and neglect, whether it was physical, emotional or sexual abuse. The effects were more extreme for kids who had endured all 4 types of abuse, or who had suffered the most severe types of maltreatment. The results were similar among girls and boys and across racial lines.

The study did have a few shortcomings, which were that it relied on official documentation related to childhood abuse and neglect, plus the study lacked information on any psychological disorders the kids may have had before being mistreated.


This study sought to right a longstanding prejudice and error regarding the difference between these very common types of adversities that children endure. The behavioral and psychological effects of having experienced childhood abuse and neglect might be similar since both emotional and physical abuse – whether it occurs within the family or among the child’s peers – can have elements in common. The results of the study suggest that whether we are discussing preventative measures, screening, or types of treatment, our ideas about childhood mistreatment must be more holistic and broader than they have been up until now. The truth is there aren’t any hierarchies when measuring physical and emotional abuse. Both physical and emotional abuse result in similar psychological trauma.

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