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Parents urged to hold children close as figures show childhood trauma leads to adult mental health issues

A leading mental health advocate has urged parents to provide a safe environment for their children, from birth, to prevent later life impacts, after new figures were released showing up to 88 per cent of adult survivors of childhood trauma develop mental health problems.

The figures, released by the Blue Knot Foundation for Blue Knot Day on Monday, show some 88 per cent of 3500 callers to the services' helpline over an eight-month period who faced childhood trauma went on to have at least one mental health impact later in life, including post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and dissociation.

Callers also reported impacts on relationships as the second most common impact, with 58 per cent of callers revealing substantial negative impacts to their relationships, from their "family of origin" to current partners, extended family, their children and friendships.

Foundation president, Dr Cathy Kezelman AM, said the figures showed the "devastating impacts of childhood trauma, even in adults".

"With one in four Australian adults affected by childhood trauma, the human cost is significant for a massive number of Australians," she said.

Canberra mental health advocate and current deputy New South Wales mental health commissioner Bradley Foxlewin said the figures were in line with his years of experience helping people recover and deal with their childhood trauma.

A survivor of abuse himself, Mr Foxlewin said some research had already shown even the "earliest attachment trauma" could have an impact life in life — from diagnosed mental health illnesses to "not having the capacity to regulate their own experience".

While all times of a child's life were important to help ensure they develop appropriately, Mr Foxlewin said "from conception to 18 months old" was a critical period when extra attention should be paid to the child.

"There's a huge array of experiences that can set children up for being disregulated. It can range from intentional abuse to neglect, through to children just experiencing a series of unfortunate events at a critical time in their development," he said.

"We all need to ensure the child isn't in a situation where it doesn't get the best attention that it needs, particularly in those early days when children need that security and safety."

Mr Foxlewin said the key to helping prevent childhood trauma, and ensuring children had the skills to face trauma in the future, was ensuring they had "consistency, predictability and a real sense of held-ness" in their lives.

"They need to feel that they are held in a place they belong, and that they are precious. That doesn't mean you don't have containers around appropriate behaviours and some discipline, but not physical discipline, but it starts with children feeling precious and knowing that they are part of something that's valuable and they are valuable to it."

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# liz
Monday, 14 November 2016 5:40 PM
Hello I have just read what I have known but been in denial. I have a hearing impairment and raised in a home with a violent alcoholic parent. Subtle sexual abuse was also present. I was ostracised, bullied, physically and mentally abused up to the age of 16. I have suffered major depression, anxiety and recently PTSD. My whole life has been tainted and all my relationships have been broken since I never new how to not live without my facade. Now at 57 I am mentally sick and paying for this wretched life. I do not know how long I will live for as I am currently experiencing my 4th episode of depression in 4 years. I have not slept more than 4 hrs in 12 months. So I know from experience that nurturing young children with much love is paramount to adult mental state.
Blue Knot Foundation
# Blue Knot Foundation
Tuesday, 15 November 2016 9:18 AM
Hi Liz,

Thank you for sharing some of your story with us. We are very sorry to read of the abuse you have experienced and we would be very happy to support you through this difficult time.

We provide short-term telephone counselling support and information to survivors of child abuse. It sounds like you could benefit from some immediate support, and it would be easier to make more relevant suggestions if we could speak on the phone, as we could get a better idea of your current situation.

By calling the Blue Knot Helpline on 1300 657 380, this gives you the opportunity to discuss your complex issues and for us to collaboratively look at some options for longer term therapy and support. If you would like to give us a call, our Helpline is open 7 days a week between 9am and 5pm ADST and is staffed by trained and experienced counsellors. If you would like us to give you a call, please email across your contact details to and let us know if it is okay for us to leave you a message.

Kind regards,
Blue Knot Foundation Team
# Maureen
Thursday, 8 December 2016 6:54 AM
I really feel for you liz..I can relate..I just found out that I have lived 45 years on earth with an undiagnosed mental illness as a direct result of being sexually abused even as a toddler...I was raped at 5 by a couple boys 10, and 12..then my mom was married for 9 years to a child molester who had his way with me and my sister as we shared a room and my mom caught him masterbating in front of us 4 years into the so called marriage..and made a decision to stay with him 5 more years. He also was emotionally..and verbally abusive. I feel like he beat on us like we were grown men not two little girls..I myself had him locked up all by complete accident I truly thought everyone was molested. I thought it was normal. I have had a 31 year drug problem I've never been able to children hate me and dont have anything to do with me. I have no clue how to be a human being. I hate myself and I don't know why. I just want to get better.
Blue Knot Foundation
# Blue Knot Foundation
Thursday, 8 December 2016 4:25 PM
Hi Maureen,

The resilience of people to survive all kinds of abuse such as what you have described, and Liz has described above, is incredible. We are truly sorry to hear about the brutality of your experiences, the impacts of which can make forming and sustaining relationships extremely challenging. Hating yourself can unfortunately be a common response to something that was certainly not your fault. It can be a very challenging road to change the relationship with yourself, and then the way you build relationships with others, however it is possible. At Blue Knot Foundation we know that with the right support in a sustained way over time, significant change can happen. I hope you’ve had a chance to look at our website As described above, the Blue Knot Helpline is available for support also.

Kind regards,
Blue Knot Foundation Team
# Andrew
Thursday, 5 January 2017 11:27 PM
Hi I'm a 41 year old male whose parents divorced very acrimoniously
when I was 5. I was pulled 2 states away with no warning into strange surroundings , and received no support from my mother or grandparents, whose place we stayed at for several weeks , as they were
totally occupied with my Mum's feelings. My Dad was starting over with another woman, and we were told they were both wicked and if we were too naughty , we'd be sent off to live with them. Threats of abandonment like this were fairly regular, every few weeks or months. The next 10 years was a constant barrage of both parents demonising each other to me and my siblings, and all the while enduring twice yearly visits to see my Dad and receiving the threatened, nasty and resentful treatment of my stepmother, as well as the ongoing reciprocal parental alienation indoctrination. There was also frequent criticism of me and ridiculing of me, so that my Dad could feel better for whatever
reason-probably that he would do a much better job, so he had to belittle me to prove his point.

I have found that while I outwardly managed and coped fairly ( publicly) through my childhood and teen years, because I had a good stepfather,
I have got serious psychological problems as an adult. Since age 22 I have had depression and anxiety and bipolar symptoms which have steadily worsened. I rely heavily on benzodiazepines, beta blockers, mood stabilisers, antidepressants and alcohol ( as little as possible). I lack confidence and joy in life and am plagued by crippling anxiety, and a sense of imminent doom. I feel vulnerable and helpless at times. Loud noises eg things falling on the floor like a photo frame literally make me jump and clench my fists. I am quite often teary. Although both parents acknowledge that the breakup damaged me and accept responsibility by saying "sorry" and "we always loved you", it feels too late. Because they used their kids as pawns to attack each other, and parents shouldn't EVER do that. I still feel like a scared child with them both , and I either alternate between being either overly assertive and verbally aggressive towards them, or totally avoiding them for big periods of time. Just thinking about those memories as a child from the initial divorce through years of reciprocal parental emotional abuse makes me feel awful. I shake and cry and feel incredibly anxious and conflicted, and I feel afraid. Is it possible for trauma during childhood to manifest much later in life as is happening now? Is it possible that I have some degree of PTSD stemming from a traumatic divorce when I was 5 years old and exacerbated by ongoing emotional trauma? I see my psychiatrist fortnightly to monitor my meds , and have recently booked a psychologist to try to get some CBT ideas that may help. I NEED to move on and find resolution and start to heal myself. Please can you give your opinions on my situation, and also the issue of possibly having some mild form of delayed PTSD, and possible treatments for it? I know my story isn't as awful as others who were molested or beaten up and other extreme forms of abuse, but emotionally I really suffered.
Blue Knot Foundation
# Blue Knot Foundation
Friday, 6 January 2017 12:59 PM
Hi Andrew,

We are sorry to hear of the very challenging circumstances you experienced as a child. Thank you for sharing these parts of your experience with us. Emotional abuse can be just as impactful as other forms of abuse.

Many of the symptoms you describe are common for other survivors of childhood trauma. We know that trauma is stored in the body and has an impact on the nervous symptoms, as well as creating changes in the chemicals your body uses to manage symptoms. Often people with body symptoms benefit from somatic therapy or things like trauma-sensitive yoga, drumming, singing or yoga/ meditation groups. We have a lot of information and resources to share about this if you are interested. Abandonment, and the threat of abandonment is a very intense emotional experience for a child and some of the symptoms you experienced make sense given this environment.

There are many options for recovery including various therapies. It sounds like you are working hard to recover and are actively seeking change and solutions, which is a huge part of recovery. If you would like more information about trauma (including emotional abuse and abandonment issues) and how it affects the brain and body, as well as ideas and resources about recovery please be in touch.

You can contact our counselling team by email or on the counselling line Blue Knot Helpline 1300 657 380 between 9am and 5pm AEST 7 days a week. The Helpline is staffed by trained and experienced counsellors.

For long-term work, Blue Knot Foundation has a database of Health Professionals including psychologists, counsellors, social workers and psychotherapists who have specialist knowledge of childhood trauma and abuse and are trained in working in this area. We can provide contact information for the individuals on our database if this is something you would like to do.

Kind regards,
Blue Knot Foundation Team
# Amy
Sunday, 29 January 2017 12:44 PM
I'm 20 and have suffered from depression, anxiety and frequent panic attacks from around the age of 14.
I didn't deal or really consider the impacts of my sexual abuse until really around the age of 17, when my lashing out verbally, anxiety and overworking was taking a toll on my academic life, and personal relationship with my parents and siblings. I had an anorexic sister who used to force feed me and control various aspects of my life (my friends, what I ate, what books I read etc etc), an autistic brother and parents who divorced very acrimoniously when I was around five. These factors combined, led to me to reason that the cause of my anxiety and anger was as a result of these factors. This feeling was emphasised by my therapist, whom I had not told about the sexual abuse. It only came out really when the family of the abuser (who used to babysit me and my siblings) visited, that I could not stand it and told somebody, around 11 years after the attacks took place.
And now I don't know what to do. I don't know how to unpack this huge lump that I have woven my life around. I've managed to be functional (never taken drugs, high performing academically and athletically in school), but still with this huge secret that is weighing me down. It's part of me, but I know that it is affecting my daily life dramatically; influencing decision making and interactions with people. I am constantly on the defensive tack, and am hugely anxious and untrustworthy of people, especially men.
I'd never really thought of myself as suffering, as strange as that may sound. But upon reading the literature and symptoms surrounding the effects of child sexual abuse and PTSD, many of the symptoms match my situation. I want to help myself but am afraid the second I say PTSD I will simply be prescribed a medley of anti-anxiety pills, rather than actually tackling the problem. I'm terrified of substance addiction, as I have a very addictive personality and worry that I'd get hooked on them as a crutch. I'd be interested in your opinions and thoughts as to next steps/methods for tackling this problem.
Blue Knot Foundation
# Blue Knot Foundation
Monday, 6 March 2017 1:18 PM
Hi Amy,

Thanks for reaching out and sharing some of your story. It sounds like daily life is being impacted by the trauma you have experienced and you are wondering what steps to take to seek help.

We wonder if you might consider calling our counselling phone line to discuss your situation with us? Our Helpline is staffed by experienced and registered trauma-informed counsellors and is open between 9am-5pm ADST, seven days a week. The number is 1300 657 380. If you would like us to call you, please email us at with your contact phone number and let us know whether it is okay to leave you a voicemail message.

We look forward to being able to assist you further.

Best wishes,
Blue Knot Foundation Team

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Health Direct


Head to Health


“Blue Knot Foundation has a key role to play in the building of community capacity in care provision to those who have experienced childhood abuse and trauma in any environment.”

NIALL MULLIGAN Manager, Lifeline Northern Rivers

“I think Blue Knot Foundation is a fantastic support organisation for people who have experienced childhood trauma/abuse, for their families/close friends and for professionals who would like to learn how to more effectively work with these people.”

Psychologist Melbourne

“It's such a beautiful thing that you are doing. Helping people to get through this.”


“It was only last September when I discovered the Blue Knot Foundation website and I will never forget the feeling of support and empathy that I received when I finally made the first phone call to Blue Knot Helpline, which was also the first time I had ever spoken about my abuse.”


"At last there is some sound education and empathetic support for individuals and partners impacted by such gross boundary violations.”


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