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Neglect on the Brain

By: Chloe Cho, Contributing Writer

One in five Americans will experience a mental disorder in a given year. That means that people with mental disabilities struggle to interact with the world around them in the U.S. alone. Although mental health has not been as prioritized as physical health, it is just as essential because it affects someone’s wellbeing as drastically. However, modern society is beginning to recognize the importance of preventing mental diseases through several ways, such as acknowledging their causes and taking action to reduce their prevalence.

What does neglect have to do with mental disability?

Mental disability can be largely affected by childhood trauma, such as child abuse. And according to an investigation done by the Child Protective Services, neglect was the most common type of child abuse. A study was done by psychologists in 2012 in which three groups of children, two of which were neglected, were given language and cognitive tests. Children in the control group performed better on the tests than both neglect groups. The study concludes that “neglect is the type of maltreatment… associated with delays in expressive, receptive, and overall language development.” Impaired language development is the most at risk because neglected children “are not provided the… personal interactions necessary for optimal language skills.” These deficits are common symptoms of learning and behavioral mental disabilities. Specific mental disabilities that can be caused by neglect and loneliness are autism and ADHD. A study done on a group of adults who grew up in neglected Romanian orphanages found that, for those who spent more than six months there, they were “more than twice as likely to have autism spectrum disorder and over six times as likely to have problems with inattention and hyperactivity.” Neglect is also part of a broader range of child abuse, which can lead to disabilities like PTSD, ASD, RAD, and DSED.

What has been done to prevent child neglect?

Not all hope is lost. Several measures have been taken to prevent child neglect and loneliness through legislative laws. In eighteen states in the U.S., it is required to report neglect if one witnesses or suspects it. Every state, though punishment and exemption varies, declares child neglect as a crime. Additionally, many federal agencies and nonprofit organizations have been established to prevent child neglect. For example, the Child Protective Services is a government agency that responds to reports of child neglect. There is also a group called the Federal Inter-Agency Work Group on Child Abuse & Neglect, which are a group of about thirty member agencies that provide information and research child neglect. A non-government group that also focuses on child neglect is the National Child Abuse Coalition, which consists of organizations that advocate for more laws on child neglect and help victims recover from neglect. Outside of the U.S., the World Health Organization has established a worldwide International Society for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect. Furthermore, there is a shifting focus towards more scientific research about the causes of child neglect. According to the National Academies Press, current research priorities about child neglect are finding its causes and consequences and establishing services in policy. For example, one priority is “identifying the best means of replicating effective interventions and services with fidelity.”

Then what’s the issue?

As seen thus far in society, many actions have been taken to prevent child neglect as awareness of mental health has increased. However, it is only one of the many other causes of mental disability. Because of lack of research and initiation towards other risk factors, people have fallen prone to mental disability and struggled to thrive in society. As other aspects of healthcare are rapidly improving, this needs to as well. Therefore, it is crucial for all of humanity to contribute to further consciousness of mental disabilities and the possible preventions of their causes.

Link to cover image:


Psychology (Irvine, Calif.) vol. 3,2 (2012): 175-182. doi:10.4236/psych.2012.32026 (online research paper)

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