Childhood upbringing linked to mental health conditions

The impact of child abuse and neglect in Australia causes nearly half of common mental health conditions, a study has found.

A University of Sydney study found childhood maltreatment accounted for 41 per cent of suicide attempts in the nation, 35 per cent of cases of self-harm and 21 per cent of depression.

Mental health conditions researched in the study were anxiety, depression, harmful alcohol and drug use, self-harm and suicide attempts.

Childhood maltreatment is classified as physical, sexual and emotional abuse and emotional or physical neglect before the age of 18.

Lead-researcher Lucy Grummitt said child maltreatment did not discriminate.

"We see rates of childhood maltreatment everywhere," Dr Grummitt told AAP.

The study had a tailored focus on emotional abuse and neglect, not commonly discussed when talking about child abuse.

"When that (emotional support) isn't coming from the parent, it really can have flow-on effects in so many different areas of their life," Dr Grummitt said.

The analysis is the first to provide estimates of the proportion of mental health conditions in Australia that arise from childhood maltreatment.

Dr Grummitt says in some cases childhood maltreatment can be a result of inter-generational trauma.

"We certainly know that parents do parent their children in the way that they were parented when they were children," she said.

"We learn how to parent our children from how our parents treated us."

The study found if childhood maltreatment was eradicated in Australia, more than 1.8 million cases of depression, anxiety and substance use disorders could be prevented.

Researchers say childhood maltreatment should be treated as a national public health priority, with schools having a big role to play in addressing the issue.

"Looking at our school policies and the whole school system, understanding the impact of trauma and making sure that practices don't further traumatise or exclude these children is really important," Dr Grummitt said.

She is calling for more of a focus on prevention of childhood maltreatment and mental health conditions, providing support for parents.

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