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Smacking children linked to depression and suicide in later life, study suggests

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Children who are smacked are more likely to suffer from depression and even attempt suicide in later life, according to new research.

A study by the University of Michigan also revealed a link between smacking as a child and adult substance abuse, with researchers suggesting the practice should be seen as similar to physical and emotional abuse.

In a review of data from more than 8,300 people aged 19 to 97, the researchers found that those who reported being smacked most frequently were more likely to have mental illnesses and were at higher risk of heavy alcohol and drug use later in life.

Alcohol and drugs.
Research has shown childhood smacking to be linked to a higher risk of alcohol and drug use in adult life (Sangriana/Getty Images)

Nearly 55% of respondents in the study reported being smacked, defined as using physical force to correct a child’s behaviour, with the intention of causing pain but not injury. Men were more likely to have experienced childhood smacking than women.

Those who had been smacked had increased odds of mental health problems, the study’s authors said.

Study leader Andrew Grogan-Kaylor, an associate professor of social work at the University of Michigan, said: “Placing spanking in a similar category to physical/emotional abuse experiences would increase our understanding of these adult mental health problems.”

The researchers said it is important to prevent not just child maltreatment, but also harsh parenting.

Study co-author Shawna J Lee, also associate professor of social work at the University of Michigan, said: “This can be achieved by promoting evidence-based parenting programmes and policies designed to prevent early adversities, and associated risk factors.

“Prevention should be a critical direction for public health initiatives to take.”

The findings appear in Child Abuse & Neglect

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