A study¹ was recently done to examine adults who were survivors of childhood adversity, whether it was physical, emotional or sexual abuse. The study looked at the state of these adults in terms of their mental health. They wanted to determine the relationship between survivors of childhood adversity and later mental health problems in adulthood.  More specifically, they were interested in any association between how many types of childhood adversities were experienced and mental disorders as adults. The study also sought to determine whether mental health treatment lowers the odds of developing psychological problems among adult survivors of childhood adversity.

The study sought to look at a cross-section of the population of the U.S. The respondents represented a national sample and included 34,653 Americans 20 years or older who lived in various communities, with 7,080 of these being senior citizens, 65 years or older. All were professionally interviewed to assess past year mood and/or anxiety disorders as well as the existence of any personality disorders throughout their life.

What are Childhood Adversity Events?

To assess the level of physical abuse suffered in childhood, respondents revealed how often a parent or some other adult who lived in the home engaged in physical abuse with them by (1) hitting, slapping, shoving, grabbing or pushing them and (2) hit them hard enough that bruises or marks were left or they were injured. Respondents were classified as having experienced physical abuse in childhood if they answered “sometimes”, “fairly often”, or “very often” when asked either question.

To assess the level of emotional abuse in childhood, respondents revealed how often a parent or some other adult that lived in the home (1) said hurtful things to them, insulted them or swore at them; (2) threatened to throw something at them or to hit them, but didn’t actually do it; and (3) acted in some other way to make the respondents fearful that they would be injured or hurt physically. Respondents were classified as having experienced emotional abuse in childhood if they answered “fairly often” or “very often” to one or more of these three questions.

To assess sexual abuse in childhood, respondents revealed how often they went through the following experiences at the hands of an adult or some other individual against their will or when they were too young to understand what was happening to them: (1) being fondled, (2) attempts to have sexual intercourse, (3) had completed sexual intercourse, or (4) forced to touch or fondle an adult or other individual in a sexual manner. Respondents were classified has having experienced sexual abuse in childhood if they answered in any way other than “never” to one or more of the questions above.

To assess physical neglect in childhood, subjects revealed how often they (1) were made or expected to do chores too dangerous or difficult for a child their age, (2) were repeatedly left all alone for extended periods of time. They were classified as having experienced physical neglect during childhood if they answered positively to either of these items of physical neglect.

Results of the study 

The study showed that adult survivors of childhood adversity have a higher chance of developing anxiety, mood, and personality disorders. With a higher number of childhood adversity events there is a higher chance of developing personality disorders and a somewhat higher chance of developing anxiety disorders. Seeking treatment is associated with a lower likelihood of having anxiety and especially having mood disorders among older adult survivors of childhood adversity.

The study’s results also indicate that the effects on survivors of childhood adversity are cumulative. Older adults who were survivors of childhood adversity of different forms had poorer mental health. These results are consistent with other research done in the past and indicate that survivors of childhood adversity can impair resiliency in adulthood. Another interesting finding is that following treatment, the association between the effects for some survivors of childhood adversity developing mood disorders in adulthood, such as depression, was no longer significant. Treatment for depression works for adults who are survivors of childhood adversity!

Because our treatment for depression relies on evidence based practices, our Intensive Outpatient Program shares many common methods with other successful treatment methods.  The foundation of our treatment program for relies on the principles of the stages of change, cognitive behavioral therapy, solution focused treatment, skills training and identifying repetitive dysfunctional behavioral relationship patterns to promote recovery from depression and other mental health disorders.  In fact, our Intensive Outpatient Program in Memphis, TN that has been proven to be effective in the treatment of these disorders in six peer reviewed treatment outcome studies.   Our treatment center provides services to those who need more treatment than one hour a week, but less than 24 hour care, by providing three hours of treatment per day, three to five days per week, in an intensive outpatient setting.  If you or a loved one is showing signs of depression or anxiety, they should be assessed by a trained mental health professional who can help design a treatment plan for depression that can result in recovery.  Treatment for depression and anxiety can be highly successful.  Call us at 901-682-6136 to schedule an appointment.

¹Time does not heal all wounds: older adults who experienced childhood adversities have higher odds of mood, anxiety, and personality disorders. Raposo SM, Mackenzie CS, Henriksen CA. Am J Geriatr Psychiatry. 22(11):1241-50.