New Book Shows Why Childhood Abuse can Lead to Chronic Illness and Premature Death in Adults, and How Abuse Survivors can Heal. April is Child Abuse Prevention Month.

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Adults who have been abused or neglected as children have higher rates of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and are more likely to die at younger ages. New book by Praeclarus Press Editor, Kathleen Kendall-Tackett, Treating the Lifetime Health Effects of Childhood Abuse, 2nd Edition, describes why child abuse survivors are more likely to get sick--and more importantly, what they can do to heal.

Childhood abuse increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other leading causes of premature mortality in adults.

Research over the last two decades has clearly shown that men and women who were abused as children are more likely to suffer from serious diseases, such heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, and die at younger ages than their non-abused counterparts. Abuse survivors are also more likely to have chronic conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, and chronic headaches.

A key question is why does child abuse make people sick?

In her new book, Treating the Lifetime Health Effects of Childhood Abuse,2nd Edition, health psychologist and Praeclarus Press’s Editor-in-Chief, Kathleen Kendall-Tackett synthesizes 20 years of research to describe why child abuse increases the risk of health problems in adults. Dr. Kendall-Tackett describes five ways by which abuse can impact health.

  •     Physiological changes. Childhood trauma can change the body. Abuse survivors become more vulnerable to stress, may not sleep well, and often have a lowered pain threshold, which means higher rates of chronic pain syndromes.
  •     Harmful behaviors. Abuse survivors are more likely to engage in harmful behaviors, such as smoking, substance abuse, and high-risk sexual behavior.
  •     Negative beliefs about themselves or others. Childhood abuse changes the way abuse survivors see the world. They are more likely to have poor self-esteem, blame themselves for the abuse, or feel shame. They are less likely to trust others and more likely to believe that others want to harm them.
  •     Dysfunctional social relationships. Abuse survivors also have higher rates of revictimization in current partnerships. Even if there is no abuse in the relationship, abuse survivors are more likely to get divorced or report lower satisfaction with their current partners than people who have not been abused. They may be very socially isolated, or they may be caregivers to many without receiving any care in return.
  •     Poor emotional health. Abuse survivors are more likely to be depressed, or have posttraumatic stress disorder or anxiety disorders.

Each of these pathways by themselves can negatively impact health the health of abuse survivors. Unfortunately, abuse survivors usually have more than one of these factors present. The more types of abuse that someone has experienced as a child, the higher the risk of serious health problems for adults.

Fortunately, there is much abuse survivors can do to improve their health. By understanding all of the factors that are involved, interventions can be targeted to specifically address the issues abuse survivors face. A key intervention is helping abuse survivors become less vulnerable to stress. Some ways to help with stress include Omega-3 fatty acids, exercise, cognitive therapy, sleep interventions, and for women, breastfeeding.

"In this remarkable text Kendall-Tackett synthesizes theory and empirical data to arrive at a fascinating review of the impact of child abuse. Examining multiple pathways across physiology, cognition, emotion, behavior, and social variables, she assembles a volume that is simply a tour de force for scientists, clinicians, and students of trauma."—Terence M. Keane, Ph.D., VA National Center for Post-traumatic Stress Disorders & Boston University School of Medicine

“This book is the most comprehensive and up-to-date available on the impact of childhood trauma and adversity. It has a clear and compelling model, a thorough review of the research, and a frank grasp of the complexity of the problem. Throughout it is infused with a sense of compassion for survivors and a vision of how to heal.” --David Finkelhor, Ph.D., Crimes against Children Research Center, University of New Hampshire

Treating the Lifetime Health Effects of Childhood Abuse, 2nd Edition, is published by Civic Research Institute. Kathleen Kendall-Tackett, Ph.D., is Editor-in-Chief of Praeclarus Press, a small press specializing in women’s health.

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