Harsh physical punishment during childhood was associated with a number of psychiatric disorders in adulthood, according to new research.
“We should not be using physical punishment on children of any age,” study researcher Tracie O. Afifi, PhD, assistant professor of community health sciences at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada, told WebMD.
Afifi and colleagues analyzed data collected on 34,653 adults aged at least 20 years who were part of the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions from 2004 to 2005.
The researchers determined the effect of physical punishment on mental health in the absence of child maltreatment. Any respondent who endorsed severe physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, physical neglect, emotional neglect or exposure to intimate partner violence were excluded from the sample. Harsh physical punishment, which included acts of physical force beyond slapping, was assessed through self-reports. Family history of dysfunction was assessed with questions based on the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, and lifetime diagnoses of Axis I and Axis II disorders were made by using the Alcohol Use Disorder and Associated Disabilities Interview Schedule IV.
When adjusted for sociodemographic variables, harsh physical punishment was associated with an increased likelihood of major depression, dysthymia, mania and mood disorder, specific phobia, all anxiety disorders and alcohol and drug abuse or dependence (adjusted OR=1.36-2.08). Even after adjusting for any family history of dysfunction, these relationships remained significant with the exception of social phobia (AOR=1.36-1.93). Harsh physical punishment was also associated with an increased likelihood of several individual personality disorders (AOR=1.63-2.46), in addition to cluster A and B disorder diagnosis (AOR=1.82-1.94).
Approximately 2% to 5% of Axis I disorders and 4% to 7% of Axis II disorders were attributed to harsh physical punishment, according to the researchers.
“It is important for pediatricians and other health care providers who work with children and parents to be aware of the link between physical punishment and mental disorders based on this study, which adds to the growing literature about the adverse outcomes associated with exposure to physical punishment,” the researchers wrote.
Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.