A study has revealed that child abuse can leave a person vulnerable to mental illness and be a trigger for suicide
The discovery was made after scientists examined the brains of 12 suicide victims who had been victims of abuse as children and found that they were unusually likely to have stunted activity in a genetically-controlled stress response mechanism.
The gene in question produced smaller amounts of its protein, increasing hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) activity and leading to greater risk of suicide.
The same defect was not evident in the brains of people who had died from causes other than suicide and had not suffered childhood abuse. The same was true of suicide victims without a history of abuse.
Child protection expert Professor Dorothy Scott, from the University of South Australia, said the study highlighted the need ‘to prepare health professionals, especially GPs, midwives and child and family health nurses, to enhance parent-infant attachment and identify and address major risk factors associated with child abuse’.
She added: ‘Parents who have a history of childhood abuse and neglect need to be offered very sensitive and highly skilled support if the risk of an inter-generational pattern of child maltreatment is to be reduced.’
Related article: Child protection: the role of communication
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