Risk for Mental Illness Higher for Children Who Experience Assault

Mothers of those exposed to assault more often have active mental illness; three times higher risk of mental illness in children seen in the first year after assault
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FRIDAY, Aug. 18, 2023 (HealthDay News) -- Children who experience assault have an increased risk for mental illness, according to a study published online Aug. 16 in JAMA Network Open.

Étienne Archambault, M.D.C.M., from the University of Toronto, and colleagues examined the five-year risk of incident mental illness in a population-based matched cohort study among children in Ontario, Canada, aged 0 to 13 years who experienced an incident physical assault between 2006 and 2014 versus age-matched children who had not experienced assault. Data were included for 21,948 children unexposed to assault and 5,487 exposed to assault.

The researchers found that children exposed to assault were more likely than those unexposed to be in the highest deprivation index quintile (standardized difference, 0.21) and live in rural areas (standardized difference, 0.48). Mothers of exposed children more likely had active mental illness (standardized difference, 0.35). Overall, 38.6 and 23.4 percent of exposed and unexposed children, respectively, had a health record diagnosis of mental illness, with an overall adjusted hazard ratio of 1.96. In the first year following assault, the risk was greatest (adjusted hazard ratio, 3.08). Nonpsychotic disorders were the most common type of mental illness in both groups. Initial mental illness occurred in an acute care setting for 14.0 and 2.8 percent of exposed and unexposed children, respectively.

"It will also be important to tailor intervention programs toward the more prevalent types of mental illness diagnosed in childhood survivors of physical assault including nonpsychotic disorders and childhood behavior disorders," the authors write.

Abstract/Full Text

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