Childhood maltreatment linked to mental health conditions

Over 1.8 million people with depression, anxiety, or substance abuse disorders had been exposed to childhood maltreatment.
childhood maltreatment

CW: Child abuse, suicide

Up to 40% of mental ill-health in Australians has been linked to childhood maltreatment, according to new research.

Maltreatment involves physical, sexual, and emotional abuse and neglect.

In an Australian-first study, researchers from the University of Sydney found the “widespread” impact of child abuse in Australia was responsible for up to 40% of common mental health conditions.

Here’s what else the study found.


Around 4.3 million Australians are estimated to have experienced mental ill-health in the year to February 2024. This is according to data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

Researchers at the University of Sydney’s Matilda Centre gathered data from several national surveys conducted between 2020 and 2023, involving more than 54,600 participants.

The centre, which specialises in mental health research, found childhood maltreatment has a large impact on mental ill-health in Australia.


According to the study, over 1.8 million people with depression, anxiety, or substance abuse disorders had been exposed to childhood maltreatment.

Around 20% of all depression cases were linked to childhood maltreatment.

Researchers found 40% of people who attempted suicide and 35% who self-harmed were likely to have experienced childhood maltreatment.


Lead researcher Dr Lucinda Grummit called the results “devastating” and an “urgent call” to invest in prevention measures.

Grummit said that meant “not just giving individual support to children and families, but wider policies to reduce stress experienced by families,” like paid parental leave.

The Royal Australian College of GP’s family abuse faculty chair Dr Wei-May Su said GPs often “don’t feel well-equipped” to address childhood trauma.


Shadow Minister for Health and Aged Care Anne Ruston told TDA that Australia needs a mental health system that “focuses on prevention and early intervention.”

Ruston said a “key focus” should be ensuring patients have the “comprehensive support” they need.

TDA reached out Health Minister Mark Butler for comment but did not receive a response at the time of publishing.

Lifeline: 13 11 14
Kids helpline: 1800 55 1800

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