Study links teen depression to neglect, abuse

George Kebaso @Morarak

Adolescent violence and depression have now been linked to childhood adversities. A new global study conducted in poor urban areas in Kenya and six other countries found that boys suffered more than girls.

Documented in the Journal of Adolescent Health of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the study says adolescent depression and violence was closely associated with exposure to physical and emotional neglect and violence and sexual abuse at an earlier age.

Overall, the study found that 46 per cent of young adolescents reported experiencing violence, 38 per cent suffered emotional neglect and 29 per cent experienced physical neglect. 

“But boys stood out in several categories. They were more likely to report physical neglect, sexual abuse and violent victimisation,” the report notes.

For both boys and girls, the study says the more adversity they experienced, the more likely they were to engage in violent behaviour, such as bullying, threatening or hitting someone.  “But the effect of the adversity was more pronounced for boys than girls, with boys 11 times more likely to be engaged in violence, and girls four times more likely to be violent,” the analysis by 22 experts also drawn from Kenya concluded.

The study catalogued the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) suffered by 1,284 adolescents aged 10 to 14 in 14 “low-income urban settings” around the world. 

It found remarkably common experiences with trauma — and very similar impacts — regardless of where the children lived, which included Vietnam, China, Bolivia, Egypt, India, Kenya, UK and the United States. 

Children assessment

The report is the first to include an assessment of how adversity impacts young children in multiple low- and middle-income countries, where the vast majority of the 1.8 billion 10- to 24-year-olds worldwide live—about a quarter of the global population.

“This is the first global study to investigate how a cluster of traumatic childhood experiences known as ACEs, or adverse childhood experiences, work together to cause specific health issues in early adolescence with terrible, lifelong consequences,” said Global Early Adolescent Study (GEAS) lead researcher Robert Blum.

He added: “And while we found young girls often suffer significantly, contrary to common belief, boys reported even greater exposure to violence and neglect, which makes them more likely to be violent in return.”

Blum said tracing violence in young men to boyhood trauma buttresses conclusion of second, related global analysis of gender equality; that achieving equality requires focusing on boys and girls.

Also, the study found that, in general, the cumulative effect of their traumas tended to produce higher levels of depressive symptoms among girls than boys, while boys tended to show more external aggression than girls.

The study, part of the GEAS supports new assessment from Coalition of Adolescent Health Experts, conclude that the key to achieving gender equality by 2030 involves addressing conditions and stereotypes that are harmful to both girls and boys.

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