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Impact of Childhood Abuse and Neglect on Adult Mental Health: A Prospective Study

NCJ Number
Journal of Health and Social Behavior Volume: 42 Issue: 2 Dated: June 2001 Pages: 184-201
Date Published
June 2001
18 pages

This study examined the impact of three types of childhood victimization - sexual abuse, physical abuse, and neglect - on lifetime measures of mental health in adulthood.


Study findings indicate that adult men who were abused and neglected in childhood had more dysthymia (persistent depression with associated symptoms) and antisocial personality disorder than matched controls who were not abused or neglected as children; however, they did not have more problems with alcohol abuse. Adult women who were abused and neglected as children reported more symptoms of dysthymia, antisocial personality disorder, and alcohol abuse than controls. After controlling for stressful life events, however, childhood victimization had little direct impact on any lifetime mental health outcome. An implication from these findings is that childhood victimization should be included among other life stressors in mental health treatment over the life course. The study used a prospective sample obtained from records of documented court cases of childhood abuse and neglect in a Midwestern city in 1970. The individuals in the sample were interviewed approximately 20 years later. The 641 individuals with documented childhood physical abuse, sexual abuse, and/or neglect were compared in outcomes with 510 persons who had not experienced any documented childhood abuse or neglect (control group). Mental health assessments of the samples were conducted with the National Institute of Mental Health Diagnostic Interview Schedule (DIS-III-R), a structured interview that provides computer-generated psychiatric assessments based on DSM-III-R criteria. Alcohol abuse or dependence was defined by symptoms described in the DSM-III-R. 4 tables and 75 references

Date Published: June 1, 2001