Dr Matthew Cullen, Psychiatrist, St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney

Children who are exposed to long-term mental abuse, typically via neglect, sexual abuse, physical abuse, have a high degree of psychological impact and trauma.

Kids actually in a healthy family environment will make their full potential. If the family environment is fundamentally fairly solid, there’s good nutrition, there’s caring parenting, and I’m not over-emphasising that. Really, this concept of good-enough parenting will generally meet their full potential.

Long-term effects of abuse on children

Abuse though, mental abuse, long-term persistent abuse thwarts that individual, that child, from reaching their full potential. And that thwarting of their true potential manifests itself in long-term consequences for them.

What do those long-term consequences look like? This trauma manifests with their inability to form trusting, loving relationships. If there’s particularly physical and sexual abuse, that may then extend to the development of quite severe disturbance of personality. There’s a tendency to deal with that trauma, abuse, the lack of trust, the emotional consequences, via the use of substances, alcohol and other drugs.

And finally, in people who have been, experienced long-term mental abuse as children have a risk in adulthood of perpetuating that to their offspring or their children. It becomes a cross-generational cycle. So the consequences for society are significant, not just for that individual. And the recognition of that has increasingly become a core part of the way in which we protect children today, but also how we try and treat or help children who’ve experienced long-term mental and physical abuse.


How to get help

If you need immediate help, call triple zero ‘000’.

Important national numbers for help:

  • Emergency 24/7 – 000
  • 1800 RESPECT 24/7 – 1800 737 732
  • Kids Help Line 24/7 – 1800 551 800
  • Sexual Assault Counselling Aust – 1800 211 028
  • Men’s Line – 1300 789 978
  • Men’s Referral Service 24/7 – 1300 766 491
  • TIS – need an interpreter? – 131 450

Important online help

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