Child Physical Abuse Linked to ADHD and Bipolar Disorder


Researchers at Columbia University, the NIMH and the New York State Psychiatric Institute find that data drawn from a cross-sectional sample of the U.S. population (N=43,093) show that childhood physical abuse, which was frequently accompanied by other childhood adversities, resulted in a doubling of the risk for a broad range of DSM-IV psychiatric disorders. Higher frequencies of abuse were significantly associated with increasing odds of adult psychiatric disorder. Results appeared online July 16, 2012 in the Journal of Traumatic Stress.

Abstract → 

Sugaya, L., Hasin, D., et al; “Child Physical Abuse and Adult Mental Health: A National Study.” Journal of Traumatic Stress. Online July 16, 2012

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Kermit Cole
Kermit Cole, MFT, founding editor of Mad in America, works in Santa Fe, New Mexico as a couples and family therapist. Inspired by Open Dialogue, he works as part of a team and consults with couples and families that have members identified as patients. His work in residential treatment — largely with severely traumatized and/or "psychotic" clients — led to an appreciation of the power and beauty of systemic philosophy and practice, as the alternative to the prevailing focus on individual pathology. A former film-maker, he has undergraduate and master's degrees in psychology from Harvard University, as well as an MFT degree from the Council for Relationships in Philadelphia. He is a doctoral candidate with the Taos Institute and the Free University of Brussels. You can reach him at [email protected].


  1. Children are not bi-polar. Enough said. Yes, abuse of any kind to a child gives them about an 80% chance of having some issues and difficulties. And the big problem is that the system that we force them into does nothing to help them deal with these issues at all. Instead, the quacks fill them to the gills with toxic drugs that chemically lobotomize them and make them quiet and compliant. The fact is that no one wants to help them with their issues concerning abuse because then we’d have to stare the ugly fact square in the face that we are a sick society that allows 1 in every 4 girls and 1 in every 6 boys to be sexually molested. But children are not bi-polar!

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    • There are therapies for treating trauma now that didn’t exist 30 years ago. The Women’s Movement (remember that?) helped to open up a dialog about child rape and that put a chink in our massive wall of denial about interpersonal violence against women and children. It’s been devilishly difficult to get help for a condition that doctors refused to believe even existed, i.e. complex trauma from childhood rape and battery. In 1970 the understanding about incest (child rape) was that it was a one in a million occurrence. Brave women and male victims of abuse spoke up and now we know that this abuse is entrenched in the enculturation of children to their roles in a power-over-others society, where the powerful prey on the weak.

      The main benefit of therapies such as sensorimotor training is that they help people re-establish trust in their own bodies and in the person who has the skill to assist them in the reconnection process. It is said that trauma victims do not have memories, we have “symptoms.” The best thing we can do for ourselves and for each other is to be fully present in the moment with the entire range of human feeling, to listen to our bodies and to the people in our lives who are suffering.

      It is sad, though that we have to have statistical evidence from double-blind trials, MRI’s of people’s brains and blood chemistry profiles of stress hormones before we can accept that battering and molesting children might tend to impair their ability to cope with stress as adults. I guess this is the kind of evidence that the shrinks, as men of science, need to have before they stop blaming the victim’s brains, labeling them as diseased and poisoning them with behavior-control chemicals.

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      • My mentor was a Roman Catholic priest. He once told me that not a week went by that he didn’t hear a “new” confession of a parent sexually molesting one of their children, or numerous children. I was horrified and asked why he wasn’t more horrified in telling me about it. He stated that he’d heard it so much that he was beyond feeling horrified anymore. So much for the one in a million stat! The stats they give today are 1 in every 4 girls is sexually molested and 1 in every 6 boys. I suspect that it’s probably 1 in every 4 for boys too. We froth at the mouth about a Jerry Sandusky and demand his death or severe punishment but we’re obvioulsy overlooking the very same things that he did while they’re right under our very noses! Our society is hypocritical and refuses to take a long look at itself about this terrible issue. What havoc it wrecks in the lives of our kids, and yet we let it go on and on……

        Yes, I hold the Women’s Movement in deep respect for all of the things it’s accomplished.

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        • I’ll say what I have to say. Sexual activity in and of itself is not abusive. Sexual activity in and of itself does not harm children. The inclusion of children in sexual activities can not be compared to forcing them to take brain damaging neuroleptic drugs, which is in fact abusive no matter what and produces real, not imaginary, damage in everybody who has to endure it.

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          • I’m pleased that you don’t see child rape as a problem. This means it didn’t happen to you. Children experimenting with each other is not what we’re discussing here, it is being held hostage by a person who is twice your size who has the power of life and death over you and uses you as a personal sex toy. You can’t say no. You can never escape. No-one believes you or will stop the rapes. And then you get caught by Big Med when you complain of emotional problems (or wind up in foster care) and get chemically raped on top of the physical and emotional torture. This is what I’m talking about.

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  2. If physical abuse doubles the probability of these “disorders” arising, what does that say about the supposedly “biological” nature of ADHD or Bipolar disorder. All the NAMI/CHADD/NIMH literature repeats over and over that “bad parenting does not cause ADHD.” Well, apparently it can, and “Bipolar” as well. Could it perhaps be because “ADHD” and “Bipolar” and all of these labels are simply descriptions of sets of behavioral symptoms that could be caused by just about anything?

    I agree, children aren’t bipolar. I don’t think adults are, either. These labels are absolute nonsense!

    —- Steve

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  3. We’ve suffered through the “Decade of the Brain” and come out the worse for it. We need a “Quarter Century @Trauma” Timing seems to be getting for the role trauma plays in human development, relationships, health, wellness. No thanks Nancy A. we’ve got Darby Penney, Ann Jennings and Vince Felitti to help us.

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  4. All symptoms of distress a human being experiences are coping strategies which result from interpersonal conflicts or intrapersonal conflicts–IMO. In the absence of empirical evidence of an actual disease–what we have is a professionally marketed illusion. Selling the lie was easy, because people do not want to believe that their own actions really do determine how well or not well a person can be, and can become… Abdication of personal responsibility for our fellow man—or, as I remember it I am my brother’s keeper.

    It is ludicrous and ironic really. It also necessitates a good deal of mental gymnastics and a lack of critical thinking to authoritatively state psychiatric diagnoses are no-fault neurobiological diseases; while casting oneself as a parent as the VICTIM, due to a minor or adult child’s difficulties. These martyrs have no difficulty describing how devastating it is to them personally, and even describe how they are beset with illnesses, and distress from the interpersonal difficulties take place between them and their children. Martyrs are assisted in casting themselves as victims by mental health professionals and other believers in the illusion. It is an intrinsic part of how the illusion is sold. That parents are in need of information, respite (if they are also care givers)and emotional support is plain; it is also equally apparent that referring to, or thinking of these parents in terms like ‘poor unfortunate parents’ or as ‘victims,’ is simply part of the marketing plan.

    What troubles me about studies like this, is it is a thinly veiled attempt to prove that being neglected, abused and/or traumatized, causes a neurobiological disease. (followed closely by the claim that this ‘disease’ causes a ‘lack of insight.’ As we know, this is necessary to the plan because it justifies depriving psychiatric patients of their Human Rights, and ‘treat’ the patient by force. That the treament will traumatize them, give them actual diseases…leading to the well-documented diminished quality of life and early death; is a successful treatment outcome.

    Charles Nemeroff received a grant to demonstrate PTSD is a brain disease—if one wants to make something up to further the marketing agenda of the pharmaceutical industry to sell teratogenic drugs as necessary treatment, to widen the net and increase the number of people labeled as inferior,lacking insight and due to a brain disease, i.e. neurobiolgical disease; Chuck has the experience and has demonstrated the the lack of integrity required to perform such a task.

    How we treat one another matters, always; for all people of all ages it really does matter… What truly sickens me is I know it matters much more to people in crisis, yet part of the marketing of madness as if it is a disease rests on a premise that how we treat one another matters less for people who are given a psychiatric diagnosis. Giving people psychiatric ‘care’ instead of love, compassion, understanding and assistance is all part of the illusion. All successful lies have a grain of truth– with a psychiatric diagnosis do not have the same Human Rights those who have not been diagnosed as ‘less than.’

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    • Very well stated. I think you’ve pretty well hit the nail directly on its head. Almost everything in psychiatry is quackery. Alam Watts, the great British philosopher/theologian was stating this in the sixties when he said that no one really understands the brain and no one understands why people have altered states of consciousness and to claim that you do is pure rubbish. He also said that to imprison people because they have altered states of consciousness that are considered “unacceptable” by the so-called “professionals” who claim to have all of this nonexistent “knowledge” is nothing less than criminal. dI think he pretty well summed up the entire situation that we’re dealing with.

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  5. The first thing one should be asking is HOW did it take them until 2012 to acknowledge such a thing. Anyone with common sense knows the truth. The fact that they can’t acknowledge it is beyond me.

    While there is no doubt a great deal of acknowledgement of trauma in many speres of society it is not that simple to get help and support for it. Most programs for victims are being taken up by mental health services and many people are forced onto medication as well.

    I suffered decades of the most horrendous abuse and was supposedly correctly labelled with PTSD, yet all I got was prescriptions for dozens of medications, extra diagnoses, and if I was supposedly lucky very strict Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, which said the abuse did not matter and it was simply my thoughts that were at fault. It never seemed to occur to them that a persons thoughts are based on there experiences and in order to think differently one has to have some experiences on which to base it. If I had suffered trauma as an adult I guess I could put it into perspective. Suffer it as a child at the hands of your parents, be told by priests that saying bad things about you will send you to hell and you end up believing that you are bad and evil. What else can one believe when they have never ever for one second experienced anything else.

    The mental health system didn’t help me, but no other system or support existed. At most I could get six sessions of counselling through rape crisis centres and nothing else. Homeless services required me to be assessed by mental health professionals who conviently found something wrong with everyone they diagnosed.

    Equally though I do not believe I could have gained from therapy then or now. The fact is I am too scared to be alone with someone in a room, and I always have been. I never coped in group housing as I had a person in the room next door. My fears of people run very deep and therapy is not that simple. It assumes I am capeable of forming a relationship with someone, and for me personally at present I am not and I never have been. I was lucky enough 10 years to get the top trauma therapist in my county to agree to work with me for free. She discontinued this after 10 years as I was still not responding at all to therapy. I don’t blame her for that and I don’t put the whole blame on the mental health system for a decade of abuse before I got to see her. My trauma was deep and the fact is I still fear people. I am better, I can walk down the street now, but I am not able to be close to people. Two years ago I began having massages with a massage therapist who used to a child protection social worker. She got the trauma and still does. While it took a good 18 months I am now able to take off most of my clothes and have a full massage of most appropriate parts of the body. We are still after 2 years doing desesitistion on some parts, some parts which would noramally be massaged are still not being touched. But I have come a long way and gained more from that than anything else. It is a long slow, painful process. But there is no one therapy that can help victims of child abuse, and of course we need much much more than therapy, but we never get it.

    As for the priest, I’d want to know why he had not at least made anonymous reports to child protection. One does not have to give a name in any country in the world that I am aware of to call child protection. How many times if any did he actually call them. All well and fine for priests to say it is confidential. Doesn’t mean you can’t use your moral ethics to make an un-named phone call. Of course one has to hope that child protection will help, but from all those I know who have been in the system it was always better in recent years than the abuse they were taken from. In decades gone by when children were removed very easily for very little reason and very limited to no checks done on the carers, things were different, but today, I’m yet to know of a child wrongly removed, well that is from the children’s perspective, not the parents!!

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    • I finally found the courage to try massage therapy after some intensive trauma/attachment work. I had to be able to withstand the release of the memories in my muscles, had to have coping strategies for the intense sensations, before I could let ANYONE touch me. And I have neuropathy, on top of everything, from the neurochemical damage the drugs I was given for PTSD wreaked om my peripheral and sympathetic nervous systems. I think massage is actually helping heal the nerve damage. Wish the original general practitioner who seduced me into the drug nightmare had just signed me up for physical therapy and hot packs. I would have done whatever he said. Rape is a physical injury and well as a spiritual and moral one. Physical therapy helps. This culture just can’t stop blaming victims, though, so there is no comprehensive treatment for interpersonal abuse.

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