Abused children can suffer from mental illness as long as 70 years after they are first maltreated, a study has found.
Researchers in the UK said victims were at risk of developing conditions decades later, even if they had no mental health problems in early adulthood.
The experts, who assessed data from 56,000 participants, said their work highlighted the potentially important association between childhood maltreatment and disorders including depression, anxiety, substance abuse and schizophrenia.
Child maltreatment includes neglect, and physical, emotional or sexual abuse.
Researchers said that while some studies had demonstrated the association between abuse and mental illnesses, none had shown the link in middle and older age.
“Our study supports a range of existing findings that all demonstrate a clear association between child maltreatment and poor mental health outcomes in adulthood,” said Dr Frederick Ho, lead author of the University of Glasgow study, published in The Lancet,
People who suffer three or more types of maltreatment in childhood - physical abuse, physical neglect, emotional abuse, emotional neglect, and sexual abuse — were at particular risk. They were almost twice as likely to suffer from mental health conditions compared to those who were not maltreated.
“We also show that those who reported binge drinking were more vulnerable to any mental disorders and behavioural syndrome following child maltreatment,” said Dr Ho.
“This suggests that child maltreatment victims who also have drinking problems represent a particularly vulnerable subgroup for mental illness and should be better supported.
“Our findings indicate that the potential mental health consequences of child maltreatment are apparent for as long as 20 to 70 years after the occurrence, even among individuals with no history of mental disorders in early adulthood.”