From conception, children bring joy and delight to their families and those around them. However, despite the joy that comes with the birth of children, many under the age of 18 remain victims of abuse or exposure to abuse and neglect.
Over the past two decades, research has shown that exposure to child abuse at any stage of development can have long-lasting effects. It is associated with a markedly increased risk of psychiatric and medical conditions, including mood disorders, anxiety disorders, suicide, type 2 diabetes, asthma and certain cancers.
dr. Haleem Abdulrahman, a consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist at University College Hospital, (UCH), Ibadan, stated that young people who grow up in an abusive environment and who are constantly abused may eventually develop a constant state of emotional instability, lower resistance to mental health problems and greater impulsivity.
He added that the persistent state of emotional turmoil and decreased resilience to mental health problems can force them into severe depression or severe psychosis and subsequently lead to suicidal thoughts or behaviors.
In one study, children who experience physical, sexual, and emotional abuse or neglect are at least two to three times more likely to commit suicide later in life. Such children who have experienced multiple abuses have as many as five times as many suicide attempts.
The psychologists at the University of Manchester and the University of South Wales, in a review of 68 studies examining the link between abuse or neglect in childhood and suicide attempts later in life, said that if people were abused as children, the risk of suicide attempts increases.
The 68 studies were conducted around the world and identified approximately 262,000 adults aged 18 or older who were exposed to child abuse and neglect.
According to UNICEF, six in ten children experience some form of violence – one in four girls and 10 percent of boys have been the victim of sexual violence. Of the children who reported violence, less than five in 100 received some form of support.
The drivers of violence against children (VAC) are rooted in social norms, including the use of violent discipline, violence against women, and community beliefs about witchcraft, all of which increase the vulnerability of children.
The result of abnormal interactions between the child, parents/guardians and society as a result of the change of society through rapid socio-economic and political changes had also led to other forms of child abuse, including the abandonment of normal babies by unmarried or very poor mothers and child abuse in urban nuclear families by host parents.
Aside from the direct physical injuries that children can sustain from abuse, a child’s reactions to abuse or neglect can have lifelong and even intergenerational consequences, depending on a combination of factors.
This includes the child’s age and developmental status when the abuse occurred; the type, frequency, duration and severity of the abuse; and the relationship between the child and the offender.
DrAbdulrahman said that apart from persistent abuse leading to behavioral problems such as Oppositional Defiant Disorder in some children who are victimized or verbally abused for no just cause, severe and persistent physical or childhood maltreatment often continues into adulthood in the form of substantial mental health problems, including suicidal behavior.
He added: “Individuals with suicidal behavior often fall into a cry for help; they may not know the right places to seek help. They have this emotional turmoil, depression or constant fear that holds mountains in them. And then the next thing they want to do is harm themselves.
“So such individuals who show symptoms of self-harm need to be helped, they need to be identified and the underlying condition treated, as well as providing a safe environment where they are away from the trauma, stress and neglect they suffer from.”
dr. However, Abdulrahman stated that suicide and suicidal behavior should not be categorized as criminal offenses to be reported to the police.
“No, it’s a cry for help from such individuals to get appropriate mental health care,” he added.
He said the likelihood of emotional turmoil, depression or constant anxiety from abuse resulting in suicidal behavior is much higher in individuals from families in which there has been some suicidal behavior in perhaps the parents or relatives.
Suicidal thoughts or behavior sometimes lead to actual suicide. Suicide has been linked to many factors, including depression, alcohol abuse, mental illness, sexual and physical abuse, family disagreements, and a family history of suicide and broken homes.
In 2020, in the journal Practicum Psychologia, Awka said in a previous review on childhood adversity and resilience as predictors of suicidal ideation in 350 students at Nnamdi Azikiwe University, that childhood emotional abuse was significantly predictive of suicidal thoughts.
Also, another study that examined the relationships between suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts and family environment in 1,285 randomly selected children and adolescents ages nine to 17, and found that suicide attempts were significantly more likely to experience stressful life events, become sexually active , smoked more than one cigarette a day and had ever smoked marijuana in the past.
Certainly, child abuse involves negative experiences that are beyond the child’s control and that can hinder or alter normal development. But these are negative experiences that are better avoided to reduce suicidal thoughts.
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