Emotional abuse may be no different than physical abuse when it comes to how a child’s emotions are affected, according to a new study.
The study, published in the academic journal JAMA Psychiatry, found that children who suffered from emotional abuse often felt the same level of “emotional mistreatment or neglect” as physical and sexual abuse victims, Reuters reported.
“The abused children had all types of problems, from anxiety and depression to rule-breaking and aggression,” the study’s lead author David Vachon, of McGill University in Montreal, told Reuters.
Vachon also said, “different types of abuse had similar consequences; physically abused children and emotionally abused children had very similar problems,” according to Reuters.
To find this, researchers studied about 2,300 children who attended a summer camp for low-income children from 1986 to 2012, Reuters reported. About half of those children “experience maltreatment,” according to Reuters.
The children were separated into groups, in which half of the children had suffered some sort of abuse. Every child filled out a self-evaluation during camp, which led researchers to find that those youngsters “with a history of abuse and neglect had much higher rates of depression, withdrawal, anxiety and neuroticism than campers who hadn’t been mistreated,” according to Reuters.
This was true among children with all sorts of abuse, including physical, emotional and sexual maltreatment, Reuters reported.
“This study is about righting a longstanding error and prejudice about the differences between these common childhood adversities,” Dr. William Copeland, a psychiatry researcher at Duke University, told Reuters in an email. “It suggests that whether we are talking about prevention, screening or treatment, our notions of childhood mistreatment need to be broader and more holistic than they have been.”
More than 678,000 American children suffered from child abuse and neglect in 2013, with 1 in 4 children suffering from maltreatment overall, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In fact, 27 percent of the victims are under the age of 3.
Even more worrisome, about 1,500 children died from abuse and neglect in 2013, the CDC reported.
“Child abuse is more than bruises or broken bones,” according to HelpGuide, a nonprofit guide to mental health issues. “While physical abuse is shocking due to the scars it leaves, not all child abuse is as obvious. Ignoring children’s needs, putting them in unsupervised, dangerous situations, or making a child feel worthless or stupid are also child abuse. Regardless of the type of child abuse, the result is serious emotional harm.”
Child abuse often makes children feel less trustworthy, damaged and like they can’t control their emotions, HelpGuide reported. It’s most common in homes that already include some level of domestic violence, where there’s substance abuse or there’s a lack of parenting skills, HelpGuide reported.
Talking to a child about abuse is never easy since abused children are unlikely to trust others because they don’t even trust their parents, HelpGuide reported. But if advisers remain calm and don’t interrogate the child, the youngsters may open up about their abuse.
It’s also important for those helping abuse victims to “reassure the child that they did nothing wrong” so that they don’t feel like it’s their fault, according to HelpGuide.
Some people looking to help may also want to leave it in the hands of professionals, HelpGuide reported.
“If you feel that your safety or the safety of the child would be threatened if you try to intervene, leave it to the professionals,” according to HelpGuide. “You may be able to provide more support later after the initial professional intervention.”
Some organizations have worked to make reporting abuse easier for children. As I wrote about in May, a Swedish nonprofit group called BRIS created custom emojis for children and any abuse victims, in general, to use when reporting incidents to their friends or loved ones.
This is not only meant to hide their report from an abuser, but also provide victims with a simple and easy way to report their troubles.
“This campaign is (meant) to encourage kids not to sit quiet with their troubles, but to reach out to others,” Silvia Ernhagen, communications director at BRIS, told The Huffington Post.
Similarly, photo essayist Sarah Hosseini released a collection of photos called “Unseen Scars,” that “reveal the emotional trauma that victims are often left with after leaving their abuser,” according to The Huffington Post.
Hosseini was physically attacked once by her abuser, but she was emotionally abused on several occasions, The Huffington Post reported. These photos are meant to show that there are unseen struggles that come from emotional abuse.
“I know many women who also suffer with these after-effects of abuse — even if their abuser never physically touched them,” Hosseini told The Huffington Post. “The threats are damaging. The manipulation is monstrous.”