Development and Psychopathology

Child abuse and neglect and the development of mental disorders in the general population

a1 New York State Psychiatric Institute
a2 Columbia University


Child abuse and neglect have repeatedly been shown to be risks for psychiatric and personality disorders. However, much of this evidence is based on retrospective reports of adults. In addition, little is known about the developmental course of psychopathology among those exposed to child maltreatment. In this study, we report mental disorders assessed from early childhood to adulthood in those later identified as victims of abuse or neglect by official or self-report. Findings show elevated rates of mental disorders and symptoms in each of four groups relative to the normative sample. Groups included those who had been victims of physical abuse or neglect according to official report and those who had been victims of physical or sexual abuse by self-report. As expected, the maltreated groups were quite different demographically from the community comparison sample, especially those with official reports. The group with retrospective self-reports of physical abuse differed only modestly from the comparison group on the symptom and disorder measures, while the sexually abused group showed the most consistently elevated patterns, even after controls for demographic differences were taken into account. The disorder and symptom patterns differed both by group and by age: neglect cases showed a partial remission in adulthood, while official physical abuse cases showed an increasingly consolidated pattern of antisocial and impulsive behavior.

c1 Patricia Cohen, PhD, New York State Psychiatric Institute, 1051 Riverside Drive, Box 47, New York, NY 10032