Study: Spanking Children May Lead to Mental Illness in Adulthood


Tracie Afifi, PhD and her colleges knew that there hasn’t be a study quite like theirs—on the effects of physical punishments of children and their mental state as adults—so they set out to find out just how much of a correlation could be drawn between the two.

The study, published in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, analyzed the relationship between physical punishment (pushing, grabbing, spanking, shoving, slapping, etc.) and mental disorders by reviewing data from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions collected between 2004 and 2005 as well as conducting interviews with 34,653 adults, 20 or older, to learn more about their mental conditions and possible past occurrences of physical punishments. This pool of people was later decreased to 20,607 after those who experienced more severe forms of physical abuse were weeded out.

What the researchers found was, “harsh physical punishment in the absence of child maltreatment is associated with mood disorders, anxiety disorders, substance abuse/dependence, and personality disorders in a general population sample.” This was after taking sociodemographic variables and family history of dysfunction into consideration.

Up to 7 percent of some adult disorders can be attributed to “harsh physical punishment” in childhood, study concluded.

ABC News breaks the study down into easily digestible percentages:
• The risk of major depression was 41 percent higher
• The risk of mania was 93 percent higher
• The risk of any mood disorder was 49 percent higher
• The risk of any anxiety disorder was 36 percent higher
• The risk of any alcohol abuse or dependence was 59 percent higher
• The risk of any drug abuse or dependence was 53 percent higher

So, what does this mean going forward?

“First, it is important for pediatricians and other health care providers who work with children and parents to be aware of the link between physical punishment and mental disorders based on this study, which adds to the growing literature about the adverse outcomes associated with exposure to physical punishment,” the researchers said. “The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly opposes striking a child for any reason.”

Dr. Afifi and her team do admit that this study “has limitations,” but even with those, it can be used as another reason to help protect children from “potentially harmful discipline.”

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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