Spare the Rod: Study Ties Corporal Punishment to Mental Illness

I found this article on corporal punishment (spanking, hitting, etc.) to be very thought provoking. It is very interesting research and is published in an esteemed journal. I would like to read the original research to see how they are defining corporal punishment exactly and for what crimes it is being administered and with what frequency the children are being punished. They state that the occasional spanking was not included but that if a person answered “sometimes” they were included. How often is “sometimes?” Once a week? Once a month? Frequency must be a contributing factor as this article suggests based on the study’s methods.

Interestingly, I just read this article last week and am now reading how Texas would like to legalize corporate punishment in the school system. Perhaps they didn’t get to read this piece yet.

Spare the rod: Study ties corporal punishment to mental illness (Accessed July 8, 2012)

July 3, 2012 by: Roy Edroso

Researchers say this is the first study to show the psychological result of physical punishment in the absence of abuse or heightened family dysfunction.

The study appearing in Pediatrics finds that “harsh physical punishment was associated with increased odds of mood disorders, anxiety disorders, alcohol and drug abuse/dependence, and several personality disorders after adjusting for sociodemographic variables and family history of dysfunction…”

In other words, no matter what other strikes are already against kids in life, beating them only makes things worse.

Respondents were asked, “As a child how often were you ever pushed, grabbed, shoved, slapped or hit by your parents or any adult living in your house?” Those who answered “sometimes” or more often were considered. (The mere occasional spanking didn’t qualify subjects.)

Those who endured more severe treatment, e.g. sexual abuse, were excluded; adjustments were made for those whose home life had a heightened dysfunction (e.g., parent on drugs or in prison).

“To our knowledge,” say the authors, “there have been no examinations of the link between physical punishment and a broad range of mental health disorders in a nationally representative sample controlling for several types of child maltreatment” prior to theirs.

By this standard, about 6% of subjects qualified as physically punished without complicating factors — much lower than the presumed range in the general population, probably because of the strict exclusions.

Corporal punishment didn’t seem to factor into Axis II psychological disorders in adulthood. For example, while subjects from a dysfunctional family who experienced harsh physical punishment showed a tendency toward schizoid and obsessive-compulsive personality as adults, those who were not from such families showed no such tendency.

But for Axis I disorders, such as “major depression, dysthymia, mania, any mood disorder, specific phobia, any anxiety disorder, and any alcohol and drug abuse or dependence disorders,” the physically punished showed higher rates than those who received lighter punishments.

“From a public health perspective,” the authors conclude, “reducing physical punishment may help to decrease the prevalence of mental disorders in the general population.”

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