For those of us who work with children, it is difficult to know how to help children who have been abused. A recent study from Canada tells us that being a safe person for children to confide in may be one of the best things that we can do.
The study surveyed more than 17,000 adults, including 651 survivors of child sexual abuse. The researchers found lower levels of good mental health among the abuse survivors than the general population (65% to 77%), but the results for the abuse survivors was nevertheless surprisingly high.
When the researchers looked deeper into the results, they found that people with an early history of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, or chronic pain were more likely to have currently negative mental health. The strongest predictor of good mental health was having a confidant.
If we are caring for children who have suffered from abuse, the lesson from this study is to:
(1) give the children a safe place to confide their fears and anxieties,
(2) watch for signs of depression, anxiety, or chronic pain to recommend professional help, and
(3) do everything we can to head off substance abuse.
All too often, reports and studies about child abuse emphasize the negative consequences. There is no doubt that abuse has profound impacts on children. But it does not have to be a psychological death sentence. We can help increase children’s resilience and, consequently, their ability to have a happy life in spite of their difficulties.