Background: Sexual abuse and physical abuse are risk factors for a trajectory of poor mental health.
Purpose: To identify specific risk and protective factors associated with mental health for male and female youth who have experienced physical and sexual abuse.
Study/Intervention Design: A mixed methods study using data from the 2008 BC Adolescent Health Survey (AHS) and from 617 youth who participated in 44 focus groups.
Methods: We analyzed quantitative data from the AHS (completed by 29 400 students in grades 7 to 12) and qualitative data from youth focus groups, including suggestions for reducing risk factors among BC youth.
Results: Youth who experienced any form of abuse reported poorer outcomes on 11 mental health indicators than did non-abused peers. However, physical abuse was associated with negative body image for boys in a way not seen with sexual abuse. Physically or sexually abused youth who indicated feeling that they had a skill reported better outcomes on the mental health indicators. However, other protective factors were not effective for all abused youth. For example, accessing a non-familial supportive adult was protective against suicidal ideation for all physically abused youth, but only for sexually abused girls. Also, abused girls (but not boys) who engaged in weekly arts activities were more likely than those not involved to have postsecondary aspirations. Focus group participants spoke of the need for gender- and experience-specific services involving supportive adults and peer mentors.
Conclusion: The differing associations between specific risk and protective factors for abused youth need to be taken into account when planning programs and policies.
Smith A, Stewart D, Poon C, Hoogeveen C, & Saewyc E. (2012). Promoting positive mental health: risk and protective factors for youth who experienced physical and sexual abuse [abstract]. Chronic Diseases and Injuries in Canada, Volume 32, Suppl 1.