London: Children who are subjected to punishments such as spanking, slapping, and hitting - even in the absence of full-scale maltreatment - are at an increased risk of mental disorders in adulthood, a new study has revealed.

Adults who reported to having such punishments in their childhood were at a greater risk of mood disorders, anxiety disorders, alcohol and drug abuse dependence, and several personality disorders, according to Tracie Afifi, PhD, of the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, and colleagues.

Up to 7 per cent of some sort of adult disorders can be attributed to "harsh physical punishment" meted out in childhood, Afifi and colleagues reported online in Pediatrics.

The link between child abuse - both physical and sexual - and mental disorders in adulthood has long been established, the researchers noted.

But studies of milder forms of punishment that had similar findings have been disputed as having "weaknesses in design, measurement, and analysis," they added, including the lack of adjustment for confounding factors such as full-scale abuse.

To try to overcome those limitations, Afifi and colleagues took the help of the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions, which included a representative sample of civilian, non-institutionalized adults in the U.S.

The second wave of the survey, conducted between 2004 and 2005, included 34,653 adults, 20 or older, and asked about current mental conditions, as well as the past incidence of physical punishments.

"As a child how often were you ever pushed, grabbed, shoved, slapped or hit by your parents or any adult living in your house?" Participants were asked in the interview.

The people had the option of answering, on a five-point Likert scale, could be never, almost never, sometimes, fairly often, and very often.

Participants who answered with 'sometimes or higher' were defined as those who have experienced harsh physical punishment.

For this analysis, participants who also reported severe physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, physical neglect, emotional neglect, or exposure to intimate partner violence were excluded. The final analytic sample included 20,607 participants.

Overall, the researchers reported, 1,258 participants reported physical punishment, or 5.9 percent of the total. They were more likely to be male, black, and to have a family history of dysfunction, ABC News reported.

After adjustment for sociodemographic factors and family dysfunction, harsh physical punishment was associated with an increased risk of most lifetime Axis I mental disorders. Specifically: The risk of major depression was 41 per cent higher;

The risk of mania was 93 per cent higher; The risk of any mood disorder was 49 per cent higher; The risk of any anxiety disorder was 36 per cent higher; The risk of any alcohol abuse or dependence was 59 per cent higher; The risk of any drug abuse or dependence was 53 per cent higher.

The findings "provide evidence that harsh physical punishment independent of child maltreatment is related to mental disorders," they concluded.

The researchers cautioned that the study was cross-sectional, which precludes drawing any causal inferences.
Moreover, they noted, that the data was retrospective, which could introduce recall and reporting biases.


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