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Bullying and sexual abuse push people to harmful behaviours, such as binge eating

Posted January 11, 2019

Psychological traumas and abuse leave scars in people‘s lives. There is no doubt that these people typically are not as confident and comfortable with themselves and often display behavioural issues. Now scientists from the University of Adelaide have found that people who suffered from bullying or sexual abuse have a lower quality of life similar to those living with chronic health conditions, like heart disease or depression.

Binge eating can be a symptom of psychological traumas, such as sexual abuse and bullying. Image credit: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration via Wikimedia

Researchers analysed data from around 3000 South Australians, who were invited for face-to-face interviews. Scientists were asking questions about bullying and sexual assaults, trying to find out when these things happened, how long they lasted and what outcomes they had. The study included people of different ages, socioeconomic status, living environment and so on – researchers tried to gather a diverse group of people, but finding those who suffered was not too difficult. The truth is that in Australia almost half of all adults have experienced bullying and 10% have experienced some form of sexual abuse.

Scientists knew that these kind of psychological traumas do not go away without leaving some marks. But these effects on behaviour and quality of life are still poorly understood due to the lack of research. Although most of these abuse cases occurred during childhood, their effects were long-term and were still visible much later in life.

Scientists found that Smoking dependence and binge eating, antidepressant use, and reduced quality of life could be linked to previous experiences of bullying and sexual abuse. In comparison with people who never suffered that kind of abuse, binge eating was 3 times, antidepressant use 4 times and smoking two times more common between victims of bullying and sexual abuse. In fact, finding a person who had two or more adverse outcomes (smoking dependence, binge eating, antidepressant use, and a lower quality of life) meant that he is 60-85 % likely to have experienced abuse.

This study showed that using very short and simple questions allows quick detection of previously abused people. If doctors could quickly recognize these people, they could offer therapy to prevent further decrease of patients’ mental health. Dr David Gonzalez-Chica, one of the authors of the study, said: “If a doctor finds a patient with multiple harmful behaviours – like smoking dependence and binge eating – who is depressed and has a lower quality of life, they should consider exploring whether these patients were victims of bullying and/or sexual abuse, as according to our results it is very likely they suffered from these forms of abuse”.

Self-harming behaviour doesn’t come out of nowhere. Abuse lowers victim’s self-wroth and they sort of give up. Recognizing it early and accurately could help with effective intervention.

Source: University of Adelaide


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