Nine in ten children who are abused will develop a mental illness by the time they are 18. And a staggering 70-80% of female victims report that as a result of their experiences, they have engaged in (or are still engaged in) substance abuse.
These shocking statistics bring home why support for victims of sexual and/or physical abuse and taking care of their mental health needs to be a government priority.
Thankfully, the importance of children’s mental health is finally being publicised and we may have royalty to thank. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, along with Prince Harry have made the mental health of children one of their main causes and have formed the organisation, Heads Together , designed to eliminate the stigma that surrounds mental health issues. One of the organisation’s goals is to ensure young people who are experiencing mental health problems not only have the courage to ask for help, but know how to access support.
The impact of abuse on a child
Children who are abused are robbed of their childhood and innocence. Tragically, an abused child is often likely to feel guilty and ashamed, blaming themselves for what has happened to them.
Mental health and emotional problems stemming from abuse can take on many forms, including:
- eating disorders
- drug and alcohol abuse
- trouble maintaining healthy relationships
- post-traumatic-stress disorder
- learning and behaviour problems
- running away from home
- withdrawal from friends and interests
The extent of the psychological damage depends on many factors. If the abuse occurred in a violent manner where the child may have feared for their life, the chance of post-traumatic-stress disorder developing is acute. Abuse that occurs over a long period of time is especially harmful as the child is forced to live with the ongoing fear and worry about being abused instead of being able to put the experience behind them. Not to mention the awful burden of carrying such a secret.
Children are impacted in differing ways by abuse depending on their age when it occurred. Young children are primarily focused on their immediate safety, whereas older youths can be more affected due to their increased awareness of the nature of the abuse.
Where to get help for young children who have suffered abuse
Help is available for children who are victims of physical and/or sexual abuse but often parents lack the knowledge and resources to access support.
When examining support options, a good place to start is the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) which offers a wide range of therapeutic programmes to help victims of abuse, including:
- Letting the Future In - this programme focuses on activities such as art, messy play and story-telling to help young children express fear, shame and other emotions they may be feeling. Therapists then help the child work through past experiences and come to understand and move on from what has happened.
- Hear and Now – designed to help children who are frightened to say what happened to them express themselves through play, art and stories.
- Protect and Respect – helps children get into a safe environment and understand that the abuse was not their fault.
Action for Children is another nationwide agency helping children and families who have suffered sexual abuse. They provide long-term support and care to children, not only in the home, but for those who have been taken into care.
Finally, your local GP, health visitor, Sure Start centre or school will be able to outline the range of support services available to both your child and family. In addition, there will be specialist psychologists and counsellors in your area who run programmes specifically designed to give your child the best opportunity to put the past behind them and look forward to a brighter future.
Support and representation for victims of child abuse
At IBB, our personal injury team, led by Malcolm Underhill, has the expertise and knowledge to advise and represent you if you wish to make a claim following sexual or physical abuse. To talk about how we might be able to help, please phone us on 0333 123 9099, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or fill in our contact form. Any discussions you have with us will be in the strictest of confidence and handled with the utmost sensitivity.