The association between child maltreatment and mental disorders in the Australian Child Maltreatment Study

James G. Scott*, Eva Malacova, Ben Mathews, Divna M. Haslam, Rosana Pacella, Daryl J. Higgins, Franziska Meinck, Michael P. Dunne, David Finkelhor, Holly E. Erskine, David M. Lawrence, Hannah J. Thomas

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

To examine the associations between experiences of child maltreatment and mental disorders in the Australian population.

Population-representative survey conducted by computer-assisted telephone interviewing.

Setting, participants
Australian residents aged 16 years and older.

Main outcome measures
Mental disorder diagnoses of lifetime major depressive disorder, current alcohol use disorder (mild, moderate and severe), current generalised anxiety disorder and current post-traumatic stress disorder.

More than one in three Australians (3606/8503 surveyed participants; 38.0%; 95% CI, 36.7–39.3%) met the diagnostic criteria for a mental disorder. The prevalence of mental disorders in non-maltreated participants was 21.6% (95% CI, 19.9–23.3%; n = 851). This increased to 36.2% (95% CI, 33.5–38.9%; n = 764) for those who experienced a single type of maltreatment and 54.8% (95% CI, 52.6–56.9%; n = 1991) for participants who experienced multi-type maltreatment. Compared with non-maltreated Australians, maltreated participants had about three times the odds of any mental disorder (odds ratio [OR], 2.82; 95% CI, 2.47–3.22), generalised anxiety disorder (OR, 3.14; 95% CI, 2.48–3.97), major depressive disorder (OR, 3.19; 95% CI, 2.68–3.80) and severe alcohol use disorder (OR, 2.62; 95% CI, 1.83–3.76), and almost five times the odds of post-traumatic stress disorder (OR, 4.60; 95% CI, 3.00–7.07). Associations between experiences of child maltreatment and mental disorders were strongest for sexual abuse, emotional abuse and multi-type maltreatment. The strength of the associations did not differ by gender. Adjustment for childhood and current financial hardship and for current socio-economic status did not significantly attenuate the associations.

Mental disorders are significantly more likely to occur in individuals who experience child maltreatment, particularly multi-type maltreatment. Prevention of child maltreatment provides an opportunity to substantially reduce the prevalence of mental illness and improve the health of the Australian population.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)S26-S33
Number of pages8
JournalThe Medical journal of Australia
Issue numberS6
Early online date2 Apr 2023
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2023

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • mental disorders
  • mental health policy
  • epidemiology
  • child abuse
  • child welfare


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