Promising Results Two-thirds of survivors of childhood physical abuse are thriving psychologically into adulthood

Improved brain healing

Improved brain healing

A new study reports that approximately 63 percent of adult survivors of childhood physical abuse are in complete mental health, indicating significant resilience in this population. Despite the promising results, the study also highlights that those who had a history of physical abuse were less likely to be psychologically thriving than the general population, thus underscoring the importance of trauma-based mental health interventions and considering physical factors such as pain chronic in supporting the mental health of abuse victims.

Barriers to achieving comprehensive mental health include insufficient social support, persistent distress, and a lifelong background of psychiatric conditions, including depression, anxiety, and substance abuse disorders.

A study recently published in the Children and Youth Services Review revealed that nearly 63% of adults who were physically abused in childhood are now in a state of complete mental health, often referred to as psychological thriving.

This is a very promising finding for survivors of childhood physical abuse, says lead author Esme Fuller-Thomson, a professor at the University of Torontos Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work and director of the Institute for Life Course and Aging. Our findings indicate that many people with a history of physical abuse achieve high levels of life satisfaction and psychological well-being. These results highlight the incredible resilience of this population.

The researchers compared a nationally representative sample of 853 Canadians with a history of childhood physical abuse to 17,216 respondents with no history of abuse using data from Statistics Canada’s Canadian Community Health Survey Mental Health.

To be considered complete mental health, participants had to report: 1) freedom from mental illness (such as substance use disorders, depression, anxiety, or suicidal tendencies) in the previous year, 2) near-daily happiness or life satisfaction in last month and 3) high levels of social and psychological well-being in the last month. The researchers intentionally excluded all respondents who had been exposed to childhood sexual abuse or parental domestic violence in order to disentangle the negative impact of childhood physical abuse from other, often co-occurring childhood adversities.

While the results bode well, the study still found a higher rate of psychological prosperity among those with no history of childhood physical abuse. Seventy-five percent of the general population reported complete mental health compared to only 63 percent of childhood physical abuse survivors, says co-author Kandace Ryckman, a graduate of the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health. We hope these findings will support the development of more effective interventions for this population and ultimately promote well-being among survivors.

Respondents who had been depressed at any point in their lives were much less likely to be psychologically thriving, says co-author Andie MacNeil, research assistant at Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work, University of Toronto. This underscores the importance of trauma-based mental health interventions for this population. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and mindfulness-based interventions have a strong evidence base for improving mental health outcomes among abuse survivors.

Chronic pain also had a significant effect on the relationship between physical abuse and overall mental health. The Comprehensive Mental Health Review encourages a more holistic understanding of mental health that goes beyond the presence or absence of mental illness. says Fuller-Thomson It is essential to consider physical factors, such as chronic pain, when supporting the mental health of abuse survivors.

Reference: Pathways to Recovery Among Survivors of Childhood Physical Abuse: What Matters to Promoting Comprehensive Mental Health by Esme Fuller-Thomson, Kandace Ryckman, Andie MacNeil, and Sarah Brennenstuhl, May 23, 2023, Review of services for children and young people.
DOI: 10.1016/j.childyouth.2023.107009

The study was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

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