As many as one in four children in the world are exposed to child abuse.
This includes sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse and neglect.
Child abuse occurs across all socioeconomic and ethnic groups, and both girls and boys are at risk. The negative consequences of such early life trauma include a significant increased risk for depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder and drug/alcohol abuse, as well as heart disease, diabetes, asthma and obesity.
Studies have shown that child abuse and neglect can significantly impact the brain and the body, as documented in brain imaging studies and measuring hormones and markers of inflammation. Patients with depression and bipolar disorder with a history of childhood maltreatment exhibit a more severe course of illness, including an increased risk for suicide, more frequent psychiatric hospitalizations and a poorer response to both antidepressants/mood stabilizers and psychotherapy.
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Human trafficking of children for commercial gain, in the form of the illegal sex trafficking or labor trafficking business, is the second-largest illegal industry worldwide and a major problem in South Florida. Current estimates of victims in the United States are 100,000 to 300,000.
It is important to educate parents, teachers, nurses, clergy and, of course, children about the warning signs of child abuse and neglect and the necessity to report concerns to mental health, law enforcement and health care authorities. Treatment of victims of child maltreatment, both children and adults, can be helped to lead fulfilling and happy lives.
Charles B. Nemeroff, M.D., Ph.D., is chief of psychiatry at UHealth — the University of Miami Health System, and professor and chairman of psychiatry at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. To learn more about UM’s clinical services, visit umiamihospital.com/specialties/psychiatry.