Psychiatric correlates of incest

Psychiatric correlates of incest – Tips from Other Journals

Recently, the literature about child sexual abuse and incest has proliferated, but incest remains poorly documented because of its severe social stigma. One study of college students that defined incest as “a sexual experience with a family member” found a 28 percent prevalence, with 50 percent of the contact between siblings and 30 percent of the sibling contacts involving force. Another study of randomly selected women found that 16 percent had experienced exploitative incest before the age of 18. The psychiatric sequelae of incest are not well known. To determine the long-term psychiatric effects of incest, Pribor and Dinwiddie conducted a study to determine the prevalence of psychiatric disorders in adult women with a history of incest.

The study included 52 women from specialized programs for sexually abused women, including self-help groups and family service agencies. All of the women had a history of incest. The control group consisted of 23 age- and race-matched women with no history of physical or sexual abuse. Incest was defined as unwanted sexual contact between the subject and a relative too close to marry (mutual exploration between siblings was excluded). Evaluation of psychiatric disorders was performed with a standardized computer interview.

In the group of women with a history of incest, 96.2 percent reported fondling, 34.6 percent reported cunnilingus, 36.5 percent reported fellatio, 36.5 percent reported sexual intercourse and 11.5 percent reported anal intercourse. The mean age at onset of incest was 6.5 years.

Patients were evaluated for the incidence of 24 psychiatric disorders. The disorders that were assessed included depression, bulimia, substance abuse, anorexia, mania, schizophrenia and panic disorder, as well as anxiety disorders and phobias.

Compared with the control subjects, the women in the incest group had a markedly higher lifetime prevalence of most of the major psychiatric disorders. Incest victims had a significantly higher lifetime prevalence of agoraphobia, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, simple phobia and social phobia, as well as alcohol abuse and depression. Victims who had been subjected to vaginal intercourse had higher rates of agoraphobia, simple phobia, panic disorder and somatization disorder. Over 75 percent of the women in the incest group had seen a therapist prior to their present therapist or group, with 82.9 percent stating that the previous therapist had not been helpful.

The authors conclude that incest victims not only have a higher incidence of psychiatric disease, but they also have a higher number of psychiatric diagnoses. The authors recommend that a possibility of childhood sexual abuse be discussed with patients who seek therapy, especially those patients with anxiety disorders, alcohol abuse and depression. (American Journal of Psychiatry, January 1992, vol. 149, p. 52.)

COPYRIGHT 1992 American Academy of Family Physicians

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group