"The groundwork of all happiness is health." - Leigh Hunt

Memories of kid abuse can have a greater impact on mental health than the abuse itself

July 10, 2023 – An individual’s memories of childhood abuse or neglect could have a stronger impact on later mental health than the experience itself, in line with a latest study published in JAMA Psychiatry.

Researchers from King's College London and the City University of New York studied 1,196 people aged 40 and under. Some of them were from a county within the Midwest of the USA and had court documents showing that that they had been physically or sexually abused between 1967 and 1971. Another group had not reported any experiences of abuse. They were asked to self-report memories of abuse as children and their current and past mental health status.

Study participants who reported memories of abuse that they had experienced before age 12 at around age 29 were more prone to experience depression or anxiety over the subsequent 10 years than those that had no memory of abuse – even when an official court record showed that that they had been abused, the study says.

The individuals who said that they had been abused, in line with court records, but couldn’t remember the abuse, had in regards to the same level of depression or anxiety as individuals who had not been abused as children, the study says.

“Our study shows that the way a person perceives and remembers experiences of abuse or neglect in childhood has a greater impact on future emotional disorders than the experience itself,” said Andrea Danese of King's College and co-author of the study in a Press release.

“The results show that even in the absence of documented evidence of childhood maltreatment, clinicians can use the information provided by their patients to identify those who are at higher risk for later mental health problems. The results also suggest that early interventions that help cope with memories of abuse and/or neglect can prevent later emotional problems.”