Impact of child sexual abuse on mental health: prospective study in males and females

Br J Psychiatry. 2004 May;184:416-21. doi: 10.1192/bjp.184.5.416.


Background: The lack of prospective studies and data on male victims leaves major questions regarding associations between child sexual abuse and subsequent psychopathology.

Aims: To examine the association between child sexual abuse in both boys and girls and subsequent treatment for mental disorder using a prospective cohort design.

Method: Children (n=1612; 1327 female) ascertained as sexually abused at the time had their histories of mental health treatment established by data linkage and compared with the general population of the same age over a specified period.

Results: Both male and female victims of abuse had significantly higher rates of psychiatric treatment during the study period than general population controls (12.4% v. 3.6%). Rates were higher for childhood mental disorders, personality disorders, anxiety disorders and major affective disorders, but not for schizophrenia. Male victims were significantly more likely to have had treatment than females (22.8% v.10.2%).

Conclusions: This prospective study demonstrates an association between child sexual abuse validated at the time and a subsequent increase in rates of childhood and adult mental disorders.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medical Record Linkage
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology
  • Mental Disorders / etiology*
  • Mental Health Services / statistics & numerical data
  • Prevalence
  • Prospective Studies
  • Sex Factors
  • Victoria / epidemiology