Bulletin of the World Health Organization

Multiple types of child maltreatment and adolescent mental health in Viet Nam

Huong Thanh Nguyen, Michael P Dunne & Anh Vu Le

Objective

To examine the prevalence of multiple types of maltreatment (MTM), potentially confounding factors and associations with depression, anxiety and self-esteem among adolescents in Viet Nam.

Methods

In 2006 we conducted a cross-sectional survey of 2591 students (aged 12–18 years; 52.1% female) from randomly-selected classes in eight secondary schools in urban (Hanoi) and rural (Hai Duong) areas of northern Viet Nam (response rate, 94.7%). Sequential multiple regression analyses were performed to estimate the relative influence of individual, family and social characteristics and of eight types of maltreatment, including physical, emotional and sexual abuse and physical or emotional neglect, on adolescent mental health.

Findings

Females reported more neglect and emotional abuse, whereas males reported more physical abuse, but no statistically significant difference was found between genders in the prevalence of sexual abuse. Adolescents were classified as having nil (32.6%), one (25.9%), two (20.7%), three (14.5%) or all four (6.3%) maltreatment types. Linear bivariate associations between MTM and depression, anxiety and low self-esteem were observed. After controlling for demographic and family factors, MTM showed significant independent effects. The proportions of the variance explained by the models ranged from 21% to 28%.

Conclusion

The combined influence of adverse individual and family background factors and of child maltreatment upon mental health in adolescents in Viet Nam is consistent with research in non-Asian countries. Emotional abuse was strongly associated with each health indicator. In Asian communities where child abuse is often construed as severe physical violence, it is important to emphasize the equally pernicious effects of emotional maltreatment.

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