Childhood maltreatment linked to mental health problems

19 Feb 2023
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A recent study has strengthened the view that childhood maltreatment contributes to mental health problems. In addition, findings suggest wider genetic and environmental risk factors mediate part of the overall mental health problem risk in those exposed to maltreatment.

“Childhood maltreatment is associated with mental health problems, but the extent to which this relationship is causal remains unclear,” the investigators said.

To strengthen causal inference, a team of investigators searched the databases of PubMed, PsycINFO, and Embase for peer-reviewed, English-language articles from inception until 1 January 2022.

Studies examining the relationship between childhood maltreatment and mental health problems using a quasi-experimental method (eg, twin/sibling differences design, children of twins design, adoption design, fixed-effects design, random-intercept cross-lagged panel model, natural experiment, propensity score matching, or inverse probability weighting) were included in the meta-analysis.

Thirty-four quasi-experimental studies, involving a total of 54,646 independent participants, met the eligibility criteria.

Prior to the adjustment for confounding, childhood maltreatment showed a moderate association with mental health problems (Cohen’s d, 0.56, 95 percent confidence interval [CI], 0.41‒0.71). A small association between childhood maltreatment and mental health problems (Cohen’s d, 0.31, 95 percent CI, 0.24‒0.37) was observed following the adjustment.

This adjusted association persisted across different quasi-experimental methods and generalized across different psychiatric disorders, according to the investigators.

“Therefore, preventing childhood maltreatment and addressing wider psychiatric risk factors in individuals exposed to maltreatment could help to prevent psychopathology,” they said.

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