Childhood Abuse Is More Prevalent Than You Think

Childhood Abuse Is More Prevalent Than You Think

By The Meadows Ranch

Each year more than 4 million child abuse cases are reported to authorities in the United States, according to Childhelp.org. Abuse comes in many forms, and types of child abuse can involve anything from physical abuse in childhood, sexual boundary violations, and neglect of medical and physical needs, to emotional and social maltreatment and injustice.

The Psychological Impact of Childhood Abuse on Mental Health

Childhood abuse and neglect have a genuine impact on mental and physical health. Whether the abuse was a one-time incident of inappropriate sexual interaction or a situation involving ongoing belittling, neglect, or violence by a parent, the toll abuse takes on a child is significant. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) have contributed to the occurrence of about 1.9 million heart disease cases and 21 million depression cases. In addition to depression, other psychological effects of child abuse and adverse experiences can include anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

NPR shares that another psychological effect of childhood abuse involves difficulty managing emotions and behaviors. Impulsivity can lead to difficulties in school and later in work, relationships, and personal life. It can contribute to health issues like addiction or eating disorders. The search for any means to cope or self-soothe the lasting effects of abuse can also result in these mental health issues.

childhood teddy bear hiding

Additionally, child abuse can later lead to feelings of shame about your past or who you are. Shame has a direct effect on our body image and our self-esteem. Europe’s Journal of Psychology  finds that a lack of self-esteem can leave us believing we can’t cope with stressors — or even feel joy — and can contribute to depression and addiction. And as with impulsivity, the Journal reveals that feelings of shame and low self-esteem can get in the way of our relationships, our education, and our jobs. The prevalence of child abuse is an epidemic with profound and enduring effects.

Preventing Child Abuse Through Intervention and Treatment

Prevention, intervention, and treatment are key components when we think about reducing child abuse statistics and their long-term effects. Offering parenting classes and stress reduction services for parents is an example of ways to decrease rates of abuse. When parents feel empowered and are taught effective coping skills to manage their feelings and stress, they are less likely to take out their own distress on their children. Teaching and training coaches, educators, and medical providers about the signs of child neglect is another effective approach of intervening. When individuals in children’s lives are made aware of warning signs, they know when and how to begin reporting child abuse so that children can be taken out of the circumstances that are detrimental to their well-being.

When parents feel empowered and are taught effective coping skills to manage their feelings and stress, they are less likely to take out their own distress on their children.

Treatment Options and Empowerment

Treatment options for child abuse can include individual, group, and family therapy using a variety of treatment techniques and therapies. The earlier you get treatment, the better the outcome. (But it is also never too late to resolve your own childhood trauma as an adult.) Empowering families to seek out services you might need for your child, and providing assistance and access to these services are helpful in mitigating the negative impact abuse can have on your child’s life.

Individual Therapy

Individual therapy is a great option for children and adults needing to overcome the effects of child abuse. This form of treatment can be tailored to your or your child’s specific needs. For example, children who experienced emotional abuse in childhood will benefit from different forms of therapy than those who experienced sexual abuse in childhood. Mental health professionals specializing in childhood trauma treatment can provide a safe and supportive environment in which to explore options for healing such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), play therapy, trauma-focused therapy, and more.

Group Therapy

Group therapy can be a valuable tool for children, teens, and adults who have experienced abuse. It provides a safe space to practice interpersonal interactions and build the social and communication skills, the empathy, and the emotional regulation that may be lacking as a result of abuse. Children, or adult survivors, can meet others with similar experiences through group therapy. This validates and normalizes your experiences and helps prevent feelings of shame and isolation.

Family Therapy

Family therapy offers a place for safe, guided communication. It keeps the child’s well-being at the forefront as it helps parents and other family members explore relational dynamics, communication patterns, and conflict resolution. Family therapy also helps everyone understand what is considered child abuse. Parents may simply not know, having themselves experienced poor parenting and abuse as a child and not having the tools, skills, or knowledge to parent in any other way than what they saw modeled. Family therapy helps everyone see the situation clearly and offers better, healthier ways for the family to interact and move forward.

Reporting Child Abuse

Helping children before more (or any) harm occurs begins with reporting child abuse. Child abuse can be identified and reported in several ways. The CDC’s “Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention: Resource for Action” explains that primary care providers should be trained to identify risk factors for neglect. Some of these can include parental depression, substance abuse, high stress, harsh punishing methods, and intimate partner violence. Intervening early when these signs appear can help parents balance their own lives and mental health and prevent child abuse. Teachers, family friends, and other family members can also look for these signs. If you don’t believe child abuse is occurring but is a risk, encourage the family to seek professional therapy and family support.

Helping children before more (or any) harm occurs begins with reporting child abuse.

If you suspect child abuse is already occurring, call 911 if your concern is immediate. For an ongoing concern, ChildWelfare.gov provides a state-by-state list of numbers to call to report maltreatment. You can also contact the Childhelp hotline for more guidance on identifying abuse and what happens when you take steps to report it.

Healing and Support

If your teen daughter is struggling with an eating disorder like anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder, The Meadows Ranch is here for you. We understand eating disorders and how childhood trauma can play into their development and hinder their treatment. This is why we offer comprehensive, integrated treatment that looks at all aspects of physical and mental health in the process of recovery. We also understand the importance of healthy families for lasting recoveries and offer family therapy and parental support. Reach out today, and let us connect your child and your family to the specialized resources that will help everyone move forward to healing.