Childhood abuse as causative factor in mental illness

At “Why Can’t the Past Just Die,” thememoryartist posts an article reviewing a book that will hopefully make an impact. (That blog no longer exists — the article is also printed here)  It’s about how childhood abuse is so often a major causative factor of mental illness. This is something I’ve believed for years. Most of those people I worked with as a social worker, regardless of diagnosis had been abused in some fashion. I can also attest to my own abuse. From the body of the article I quote:

Some authorities say that up to 60 percent of psychiatric patients, both in-patient and out-patient, report childhood histories of physical or sexual abuse or both. This estimate excludes emotional abuse and neglect.

I would venture to say that if those people who were emotionally abused and neglected were counted it would cover most if not all the remaining 40%. Being emotionally abused starting from an early age is just as bad as physical abuse.

Please read the article and then read the comment section below the article. The comment thread is great. (I had a hard time finding the comments–you need to scroll way down the page.)

For the purposes of this blog (being that is in large part about the value in withdrawing from drugs) I quote one section of one of thememoryartist’s comments:

As someone who spent half of my life “diagnosed” with bipolar disorder, I can tell you that I am lucky to be alive after years of taking those drugs. They did nothing for my growth unless you count my waist size. They created new psychiatric symptoms that had not been present originally, they caused me to become diabetic at 24 years old, and they left me too numbed and unmotivated to be able to take care of myself and my life. I could not, in that condition,even begin to truly engage in therapy in a way that helped to overcome any of the the mental health issues that I have. I had 26 inpatient hospital stays and nearly landed in a long-term state hospital on two different occasions, because of the way the doctors played with those meds. There are many times that I might have died. A year and a half ago, I could no longer get those meds and could not afford to buy them. It would’ve cost me $1600 a month. The withdrawal was hell. I thought I was going to die. But instead I got my life back. It’s been over two and a half years since I’ve been hospitalized. I supposedly have bipolar disorder with rapid cycling. If that were the case, I’d be really screwed by now without medication instead of getting healthier all the time.Mythology? Yes, there are so many myths that come with psychiatry, and those myths are costing lives every single day that people go on believing them.

thememoryartist withdrew from drugs (it seems) cold-turkey and had a wonderful recovery after a hellish time. I’d like to suggest that if people have the option a slow careful withdrawal is probably safer–she did not have that option. I know that many people who withdraw cold turkey do not succeed well. I’m doing okay moving along slowly. It’s a long, low-grade hellish experience, but I often feel quite good too. In my experience now on the withdrawal lists I’m on it seems to be commonly accepted that slow is better and diet and nutrition helps–but people do it all different ways and do succeed.

25 thoughts on “Childhood abuse as causative factor in mental illness

  1. Thank you for this discussion. I began to unravel thoughts here, and could not gather mine to write properly about it. I took a day to think, and have now been able to grasp my thoughts and share some of my trauma and my daughters on my blog in a few recent posts.

    Like

  2. Thank you for this discussion. I began to unravel thoughts here, and could not gather mine to write properly about it. I took a day to think, and have now been able to grasp my thoughts and share some of my trauma and my daughters on my blog in a few recent posts.

    Like

  3. “the ones that talk the parent abuse one up the most are people who are not parents.”

    Stephany,

    That’s a sweeping generalization. I can only speak for myself, and that is what I was speaking to. The ones who talk about parent abuse here are the ones who have been abused by their parents and can relate that abuse to the current feelings and symptoms.

    You wrote:
    “-it never occured to me to wonder “why” or to blame someone or circumstances as to why I was dx bipolar.”

    I spent most of my life NOT questioning the bipolar dx, believing fully that it was just genetic or chemical, a problem with my brain- and that is what prevented me from getting the help that I needed.Most of my worst symptoms, including the psychotic ones were iatrogenic, caused by the meds. It turned out that I don’t actually have bipolar disorder. Once I accepted that, I was able to begin to work on and resolve the real causes of my symptoms. It required that I would take responsibility for my feelings. There was no hope while I was feeling and believing that it was an incurable piece of who I am.

    I see a lot of defensiveness about this topic when there doesn’t need to be. I can fully accept your interpretation of your experience, but bear in mind that it is different for everyone. There is no mystery for me why I became ill, and no mystery why getting appropriate treatment was so difficult.It’s not about blaming. It’s about identifying contributing factors so as to know what where symptoms came from and how they can be resolved.

    What we’ve talked about is not an indictment against all parents whose children develop a mental illness or the symptoms of mental illness.It’s not an indictment against you as a parent.Your circumstances and your daughter’s circumstances are not going to be identical to the rest of us.

    I agree with Gianna:

    “And to discount our experiences because “all is mystery” is not being observant of the facts as being presented by peoples lived experience.

    Your experience is equally valid and if abuse did not play into the picture that is completely legitimate as well.”

    Like

  4. “the ones that talk the parent abuse one up the most are people who are not parents.”

    Stephany,

    That’s a sweeping generalization. I can only speak for myself, and that is what I was speaking to. The ones who talk about parent abuse here are the ones who have been abused by their parents and can relate that abuse to the current feelings and symptoms.

    You wrote:
    “-it never occured to me to wonder “why” or to blame someone or circumstances as to why I was dx bipolar.”

    I spent most of my life NOT questioning the bipolar dx, believing fully that it was just genetic or chemical, a problem with my brain- and that is what prevented me from getting the help that I needed.Most of my worst symptoms, including the psychotic ones were iatrogenic, caused by the meds. It turned out that I don’t actually have bipolar disorder. Once I accepted that, I was able to begin to work on and resolve the real causes of my symptoms. It required that I would take responsibility for my feelings. There was no hope while I was feeling and believing that it was an incurable piece of who I am.

    I see a lot of defensiveness about this topic when there doesn’t need to be. I can fully accept your interpretation of your experience, but bear in mind that it is different for everyone. There is no mystery for me why I became ill, and no mystery why getting appropriate treatment was so difficult.It’s not about blaming. It’s about identifying contributing factors so as to know what where symptoms came from and how they can be resolved.

    What we’ve talked about is not an indictment against all parents whose children develop a mental illness or the symptoms of mental illness.It’s not an indictment against you as a parent.Your circumstances and your daughter’s circumstances are not going to be identical to the rest of us.

    I agree with Gianna:

    “And to discount our experiences because “all is mystery” is not being observant of the facts as being presented by peoples lived experience.

    Your experience is equally valid and if abuse did not play into the picture that is completely legitimate as well.”

    Like

  5. This is why the psychiatrists call her complex. They also have a baseline like yours to compare with. Drug abuse? smoking pot?alcohol use? abuse? all of those questions were “no” when looking at my daughter’s case.
    She wet her bed and was placed on anti depressant imipramine. then was locked up in a psych ward for teens at age 11, where they punished them by taking shoes away, and had no outside time. Oh one doctor said she may have missed a developemental milestone, and also they called her a morph at one point. As in a morph of downs syndrome and austistic. theyve tested genetics, all of it.
    what they found was polycystic ovary syndrome and a double high testosterone level. the severe facial and arm hair she had from that is now gone, with hormone balancing. now they say that could have been her only problem.
    I also removed my post about this topic, because it came across too hostile and not well written.
    There are brain differences in shape and lobe areas that show differences in mental health patients, and this is an area that needs more research if anything does. its a biological problem is about the last resort blame game topic. ive seen one persons SPECT scan, and the patient was medicated per what the doctor said the brain appeared, and the patient is well after years of struggle on the correct medications now.
    Like I noted–everyone has an opinion about why they have mental illness, and the ones that talk the parent abuse one up the most are people who are not parents. I just find that an interesting part of this. I was fortunate to have friends that lived across the street, and professionals in the school system who were part of my life so that I never had to feel defensive in the baseline questioning of “parental abuse” because people were constantly around us and my daughter in all environments. Then of course there are the mothers who defend drugging of their kids, and take offense at those of us who think psych meds shouldnt be give to toddlers–so basically no one wins here except ourselves with our own theories, and that’s all that matters in the end.

    Because there are no difinitive answers to reason for mental illness, and no difinitive treatment plans that work.

    Like

  6. This is why the psychiatrists call her complex. They also have a baseline like yours to compare with. Drug abuse? smoking pot?alcohol use? abuse? all of those questions were “no” when looking at my daughter’s case.
    She wet her bed and was placed on anti depressant imipramine. then was locked up in a psych ward for teens at age 11, where they punished them by taking shoes away, and had no outside time. Oh one doctor said she may have missed a developemental milestone, and also they called her a morph at one point. As in a morph of downs syndrome and austistic. theyve tested genetics, all of it.
    what they found was polycystic ovary syndrome and a double high testosterone level. the severe facial and arm hair she had from that is now gone, with hormone balancing. now they say that could have been her only problem.
    I also removed my post about this topic, because it came across too hostile and not well written.
    There are brain differences in shape and lobe areas that show differences in mental health patients, and this is an area that needs more research if anything does. its a biological problem is about the last resort blame game topic. ive seen one persons SPECT scan, and the patient was medicated per what the doctor said the brain appeared, and the patient is well after years of struggle on the correct medications now.
    Like I noted–everyone has an opinion about why they have mental illness, and the ones that talk the parent abuse one up the most are people who are not parents. I just find that an interesting part of this. I was fortunate to have friends that lived across the street, and professionals in the school system who were part of my life so that I never had to feel defensive in the baseline questioning of “parental abuse” because people were constantly around us and my daughter in all environments. Then of course there are the mothers who defend drugging of their kids, and take offense at those of us who think psych meds shouldnt be give to toddlers–so basically no one wins here except ourselves with our own theories, and that’s all that matters in the end.

    Because there are no difinitive answers to reason for mental illness, and no difinitive treatment plans that work.

    Like

  7. I maintain, my experience and the experience of hundreds of my clients suggest abuse as factor. People’s lived experience cannot be denied. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t different for your daughter. But the statistics noted in the article are accurate as far as I can tell from my work with the mentally ill and agian, my own experience and experiences of friends.

    To say that people who are not parents can’t weigh in is silly if we have suffered at the hands of our parents and other adults and professionals in our life. And to discount our experiences because “all is mystery” is not being observant of the facts as being presented by peoples lived experience.

    Your experience is equally valid and if abuse did not play into the picture that is completely legitimate as well.

    Like

  8. I maintain, my experience and the experience of hundreds of my clients suggest abuse as factor. People’s lived experience cannot be denied. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t different for your daughter. But the statistics noted in the article are accurate as far as I can tell from my work with the mentally ill and agian, my own experience and experiences of friends.

    To say that people who are not parents can’t weigh in is silly if we have suffered at the hands of our parents and other adults and professionals in our life. And to discount our experiences because “all is mystery” is not being observant of the facts as being presented by peoples lived experience.

    Your experience is equally valid and if abuse did not play into the picture that is completely legitimate as well.

    Like

  9. The only place I can surmise my daughter was abused and is suffering traumatic after affects is from the psych wards she was in.Other than that she and my kids grew up in a mom at home environment; dad was checked out, and silent, until i was dx bipolar, now he declares he hates mental illness. how convenient.
    my kids were spoiled, loved, and had an ideal childhood. i just find it interesting, because there is a common thread on many blogs leaving parenting as reason for mental illness, and I basically dont buy any theory thats out there.genetics, chemicals, stress, its all a crapshoot. maybe it was too many trips to disneyland, camping or whatever. maybe those characters dressed up like mickey and minnie sent me, and 2 of my kids into mental illness orbit.

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  10. The only place I can surmise my daughter was abused and is suffering traumatic after affects is from the psych wards she was in.Other than that she and my kids grew up in a mom at home environment; dad was checked out, and silent, until i was dx bipolar, now he declares he hates mental illness. how convenient.
    my kids were spoiled, loved, and had an ideal childhood. i just find it interesting, because there is a common thread on many blogs leaving parenting as reason for mental illness, and I basically dont buy any theory thats out there.genetics, chemicals, stress, its all a crapshoot. maybe it was too many trips to disneyland, camping or whatever. maybe those characters dressed up like mickey and minnie sent me, and 2 of my kids into mental illness orbit.

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  11. Stephany,
    I’ve been wanting to respond to you and Ruth did it beautifully for me. I just want to add, I think of abuse as
    a factor…not the only and certainly not always the cause.

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  12. Stephany,
    I’ve been wanting to respond to you and Ruth did it beautifully for me. I just want to add, I think of abuse as
    a factor…not the only and certainly not always the cause.

    Like

  13. Hi Stephany – I guess that when it comes to mental illness there are many roads to Rome, causal overdetermination and all that. But I personally find it hard not to wonder ‘why’ and to try to formulate an opinion about my own case, while appreciating, as you say, that there is a lot we don’t know, and that it is sheer hubris to assume that what caused my condition caused everybody else’s.

    Regarding the ‘blame the parents’ argument, no, I don’t have kids myself (yet), but I’m nevertheless going to go out on a limb here and say that the pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction, i.e. that after years of misogynistic mother-blaming, psychiatry now largely turns a blind eye to the possibility of family dynamics playing a causal role in mental illness. Part of this is pragmatic – since the relationship between professionals and parents/advocates is crucial, the professionals quite sensibly don’t want to risk alienating them by implying they are in some way to blame for their child’s illness. But the thing is, acknowledging the possible role of family dynamics does notautomatically mean that ‘someone is to blame’. Rather, it invites us to consider things that affect the family as a whole, such as poverty and isolation, as well as things that occur within the family but are not ‘done’ to the child as such, like parental conflict or a serious illness affecting another member.

    This perspective can be useful even when something overtly abusive was done to the child. thememoryartist exemplifies this very well in her May 18, 1977 post, in which she acknowledges the limitations faced by her mother and her abuser without actually excusing their appalling behaviour or denying the damage done.

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  14. Hi Stephany – I guess that when it comes to mental illness there are many roads to Rome, causal overdetermination and all that. But I personally find it hard not to wonder ‘why’ and to try to formulate an opinion about my own case, while appreciating, as you say, that there is a lot we don’t know, and that it is sheer hubris to assume that what caused my condition caused everybody else’s.

    Regarding the ‘blame the parents’ argument, no, I don’t have kids myself (yet), but I’m nevertheless going to go out on a limb here and say that the pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction, i.e. that after years of misogynistic mother-blaming, psychiatry now largely turns a blind eye to the possibility of family dynamics playing a causal role in mental illness. Part of this is pragmatic – since the relationship between professionals and parents/advocates is crucial, the professionals quite sensibly don’t want to risk alienating them by implying they are in some way to blame for their child’s illness. But the thing is, acknowledging the possible role of family dynamics does notautomatically mean that ‘someone is to blame’. Rather, it invites us to consider things that affect the family as a whole, such as poverty and isolation, as well as things that occur within the family but are not ‘done’ to the child as such, like parental conflict or a serious illness affecting another member.

    This perspective can be useful even when something overtly abusive was done to the child. thememoryartist exemplifies this very well in her May 18, 1977 post, in which she acknowledges the limitations faced by her mother and her abuser without actually excusing their appalling behaviour or denying the damage done.

    Like

  15. No,they don’t give anyone that choice.Even after a year of being off meds, the psychiatrist that I occasionally saw was still trying to push meds. He was so worried that I would start cycling. His NP gave me a bitchy lecture at one point insisting that I would get brain damage without the medication and cause my “bipolar disorder” to worsen permanently.They couldn’t give samples of all the meds I’d been taking before the insurance change, but they supplied me with bottles of horse-pill sized Seroquel that is still sitting in my closet somewhere.They gave no notice to the fact that I was the most stable that I’ve ever been and making consistent progress in all areas of my life. Once labeled bipolar- always bipolar.
    Luckily, I’ve had a great therapist through the past two and a half years who also has come to realize that the meds were really making things worse for me. People our position rarely find that these days.

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  16. No,they don’t give anyone that choice.Even after a year of being off meds, the psychiatrist that I occasionally saw was still trying to push meds. He was so worried that I would start cycling. His NP gave me a bitchy lecture at one point insisting that I would get brain damage without the medication and cause my “bipolar disorder” to worsen permanently.They couldn’t give samples of all the meds I’d been taking before the insurance change, but they supplied me with bottles of horse-pill sized Seroquel that is still sitting in my closet somewhere.They gave no notice to the fact that I was the most stable that I’ve ever been and making consistent progress in all areas of my life. Once labeled bipolar- always bipolar.
    Luckily, I’ve had a great therapist through the past two and a half years who also has come to realize that the meds were really making things worse for me. People our position rarely find that these days.

    Like

  17. “I didn’t have a choice. If I had, I’d probably still be on them, and still very sick- or dead.”

    yes most of us are never given the choice are we?

    I’ve been very lucky–I moved out of state and my entire care team is now supporting me even though I have a history of psychosis and hospitalizations. I’m incredibly lucky and I know it.

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  18. “I didn’t have a choice. If I had, I’d probably still be on them, and still very sick- or dead.”

    yes most of us are never given the choice are we?

    I’ve been very lucky–I moved out of state and my entire care team is now supporting me even though I have a history of psychosis and hospitalizations. I’m incredibly lucky and I know it.

    Like

  19. “just to be fair to those who are innocent.”–

    A running theme I see with the mental illness is from bad parenting arguement: most people making this comment are not parents themselves.

    I also see a running theme of blaming someone or soemthing for a reason to be mentally ill.

    –bad therapists, bad doctors, bad parents–i am starting to see that no one understands what causes mental illness, whether it is chemical imbalances, genetics, or lifestyles, etc. so a person will choose what they believe is their personal reason for illness to blame.

    -it never occured to me to wonder “why” or to blame someone or circumstances as to why I was dx bipolar.

    I believe it is an unknown mystery still with a lot of theories.

    Just my opinion.

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  20. Cold turkey is right.I shut myself away from everyone for two weeks while I endured the worst of the withdrawal.They would’ve had me locked up and the cycle would’ve started all over.
    People get horrible “symptoms” when they go off the amount of meds that I was on, and end up in the hospital where they get re-started on them. I think it’s probably the withdrawal effects that cause most of those “symptoms”.
    I wouldn’t recommend doing it that way for anyone, but you would have a hard time finding a psychiatrist who would look at a psych history as long and as sordid as mine who would even think of decreasing all meds to the eventual point of total termination.I didn’t have a choice. If I had, I’d probably still be on them, and still very sick- or dead.

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  21. Cold turkey is right.I shut myself away from everyone for two weeks while I endured the worst of the withdrawal.They would’ve had me locked up and the cycle would’ve started all over.
    People get horrible “symptoms” when they go off the amount of meds that I was on, and end up in the hospital where they get re-started on them. I think it’s probably the withdrawal effects that cause most of those “symptoms”.
    I wouldn’t recommend doing it that way for anyone, but you would have a hard time finding a psychiatrist who would look at a psych history as long and as sordid as mine who would even think of decreasing all meds to the eventual point of total termination.I didn’t have a choice. If I had, I’d probably still be on them, and still very sick- or dead.

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  22. Just to be fair to those who are innocent–violent abuse happens outside of the immediate family quite often and can have equally serious impact.

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  23. Just to be fair to those who are innocent–violent abuse happens outside of the immediate family quite often and can have equally serious impact.

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  24. Nature VS nurture arguement. Don’t you know M.I. is all chemical imbalances?(joke). I think its more like 99.99% than 60% causative factor. But laying blame is gonna make trouble major. IMO parents of the M.I. want to feel guilty for their bad DNA rather than their parenting .

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  25. Nature VS nurture arguement. Don’t you know M.I. is all chemical imbalances?(joke). I think its more like 99.99% than 60% causative factor. But laying blame is gonna make trouble major. IMO parents of the M.I. want to feel guilty for their bad DNA rather than their parenting .

    Like

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