Words as Powerful as Sticks and Stones

Childhood verbal abuse linked with depression and anxiety

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THURSDAY, June 1, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Belittling, shaming or threatening a child may be as detrimental to the young victim as physical or sexual abuse, new research suggests.

Repeated verbal abuse from parents can contribute to depression and anxiety that lasts well into adulthood, researchers at Florida State University in Tallahassee report.

The study, published in The Journal of Affective Disorders, evaluated the impact of verbal abuse on the mental health of more than 5,600 people, aged 15-54. Thirty percent of participants admitted to being verbally abused both sporadically and frequently by their parents as a child.

"Those who were verbally abused had 1.6 times as many symptoms of depression and anxiety as those who had not been verbally abused and were twice as likely to have suffered a mood or anxiety disorder in their lifetime," study author Natalie Sachs-Ericsson, an FSU professor, said in a prepared statement.

Poor self-esteem triggered by verbal abuse during childhood continues into adulthood, allowing the symptoms of anxiety and depression to settle, the researchers said. But, they added, therapy offers hope for these victims.

"Self-critical people can benefit from cognitive-behavioral therapy, an approach that helps people identify their irrational thought patterns and replace them with more rational thoughts," Sachs-Ericsson wrote.

More information

To learn more about the emotional abuse of children, visit American Humane Association.

SOURCES: Florida State University, news release, May 2006

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