Playing the Indian Card

Friday, October 13, 2017

It's a Duck


The latest idea from the professionals in the field of mental illness is that mental illness is the result of abusive treatment. This notion probably first caught their attention because we are seeing a lot of PTSD—post-traumatic stress disorder—in the US these days from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And the obvious similarity between the symptoms of PTSD and what is usually called depression or anxiety disorder is apparent to the doctors. Moreover, the standard anti-depressants usually work on PTSD.

If it looks like a duck, and it quacks like a duck…

This means that depression, and perhaps mental illness in general, can be assumed to be most often the consequence of a traumatic childhood. A childhood about as frightening as living through a war on the front lines.

Recent studies seem to confirm this insight. A lot of recent studies, it turns out.

The Center for Disease Control, official arm of the US government, takes it as proven.i They note that, “In one long-term study, as many as 80% of young adults who had been abused met the diagnostic criteria for at least one psychiatric disorder at age 21.”ii Given the relative inaccuracy of psychiatric diagnosis, the real figure may be 100%. Or it may be 100% if the same group were to be surveyed a few years later. Psychology Today writes, “In almost every case of significant adult depression, some form of abuse was experienced in childhood, either physical, sexual, emotional or, often, a combination.”iii A recent study by Dr. Martin Teicher of Harvard demonstrates that childhood abuse even causes definite and permanent changes in the brain.iv Brain damage, you could say.

The Wikipedia entry for “Depression” accordingly currently gives, under “Causes”:

“Adversity in childhood, such as bereavement, neglect, mental abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and unequal parental treatment of siblings can contribute to depression in adulthood. Childhood physical or sexual abuse in particular significantly correlates with the likelihood of experiencing depression over the life course.”

And it is not just depression. Childhood abuse has also been found to correlate strongly with panic attacks, dissociation, dissociative identity disorder, bipolar disorder (manic depression), schizophrenia, alcoholism, addiction and drug abuse, and eating disorders.v That’s pretty much the entire range of what we call “mental illness”--notably excluding narcissism.

Nor is it just mental illness. Childhood abuse has also been found to produce higher rates of cardiovascular disease (heart disease), lung and liver disease, hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes, asthma, and

At the website Psych Central, Rick Nauert writes, “Historically, the psychological damage resulting from childhood abuse and the effects on physical health have been well documented.”vii

Psychiatry and psychology does not have a great track record. It has led us down the garden path several times before. Wasn’t it only yesterday that the popular consensus seemed to be that mental illness was caused by a “chemical imbalance,” presumably hereditary? And we were on the verge of finding a “gene for schizophrenia”? And not long before that, weren’t the Freudians all telling us it was about an unresolved Oedipus complex?

But this time, at least, modern psychiatry has found itself in synch with not just physical medicine—the brain scans, the links with stress-related physical ailments—but also with the ancient wisdom. The Dymphna legend suggests that many people, not least among the mentally ill themselves, have understood for a millennium or more that child abuse was the cause of mental illness. We may at last be on to something.

Or back on to something. Frustratingly, it looks as if that this was something everyone knew, or many people knew, until Freud showed up.


i“Long Term Consequences of Child Abuse and Neglect,” Child Welfare Information Gateway, July, 2013, p. 5.

iiA. Silverman, H. Reinherz, R. Giaconia, “The Long-Term Sequelae of Child and Adolescent Abuse: A Longitudinal Community Study,” Child Abuse Negl.1996 ; 20 (8): pp. 709–723.

iiiEllen McGrath, “Child Abuse and Depression,” Psychology Today,

ivMaia Salavitz, “How Child Abuse Primes the Brain for Future Mental Illness,” Time magazine, February 15, 2012,


viAnnie Kolodziej, “Does Child Abuse Predict Poor Mental Health?” AllPsych, July 2015,

viiRick Nauert, “Childhood Abuse & Neglect Linked to Adult Health Risks,” Psych Central,

No comments: