478 word article

Is it what happens to us in childhood that affects our mental health or is it how we PERCEIVE what happened to us as being the crucial factor?

To help answer this question a study was undertaken by Danese and Widom (2020)

The study involved  two groups:

GROUP ONE:

908 individuals who had official court records showing that they had been subjected to childhood abuse or neglect.

GROUP TWO:

667 individuals with no documented history of childhood abuse or neglect.

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Of these 1,575 individuals (the total of group 1 plus the total of group 2) although only 1,196 could be followed up several years later when they had reached an average age of 28 this number (1.196) still represented a healthy sample size.

The next stage of the study was to interview the 1.196 participants in order to ascertain:

  1. To what degree they felt they had been mistreated in childhood.
  2. The degree of psychopathology they had experienced in their lives (e.g. PTSD, depression, anxiety, addictions, anti-social behavior disorder)

After these interviews had been completed, these 1,196 participants were placed into one of three groups. These were:

GROUP ONE: Those who had been defined as having experienced childhood abuse/neglect from ONLY OBJECTIVE EVIDENCE (i.e. court records).

GROUP TWO: Those who could be defined as having experienced childhood abuse/neglect with reference to BOTH OBJECTIVE EVIDENCE and SUBJECTIVE EVIDENCE (i.e. information gathered during interviews in the case of the former and from self-accounts in the case of the latter).

GROUP THREE: Those who had ONLY SUBJECTIVE EVIDENCE of having been abused (i.e. the self-accounts given during interviews).

 

THE CRUCIAL FINDING DERIVED FROM THE ABOVE:

 

It was found that those who were only OBJECTIVELY defined as having experienced childhood abuse/neglect SHOWED NO MORE PSYCHOPATHOLOGY than those who were NEITHER SUBJECTIVELY NOR OBJECTIVELY defined as having experienced childhood abuse/neglect.

Those who provided SUBJECTIVE EVIDENCE were found to have experienced a significantly higher degree of psychopathology over their lifetimes irrespective of whether or not there was objective evidence of their having experienced childhood abuse/neglect.

Furthermore, those who were only subjectively defined as having experienced childhood abuse/neglect were found to have experienced a significantly higher degree of psychopathology over their lifetimes EVEN COMPARED TO THOSE INDIVIDUALS WHO HAD OBJECTIVE EVIDENCE THAT THEY SUFFERED THE MOST SEVERE FORMS OF CHILDHOOD MALTREATMENT.

CONCLUSION:

Whilst more research is needed and the seriousness of childhood maltreatment should not be underestimated whether measured by subjective or objective means, HOW THE INDIVIDUAL PERCEIVES WHAT HAPPENED TO HIM/HER IN CHILDHOOD (i.e. his/her subjective experience) seems to be, according to this study, of particular importance and the researchers involved in the study recommended that this finding be taken greater account of when treating symptoms related to childhood trauma.

REFERENCE

Danese A, Widom CS. Objective and subjective experiences of child maltreatment and their relationships with psychopathology. Nat Hum Behav. 2020 Aug;4(8):811-818. doi: 10.1038/s41562-020-0880-3. Epub 2020 May 18. PMID: 32424258.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).