Childhood traumas triple the risk of psychoses later in life

April 26, 2012

Exposure to adverse childhood events may be an important determinant of psychotic disorders. Research has found that children who experience severe abuse or traumas are up to 3 times as likely to develop schizophrenia and related psychoses when they are older.

Exposure to adverse childhood events is an important determinant of psychotic disorders, a new study suggests. A meta-analysis of published research has found that children who experience severe abuse or traumas are up to 3 times as likely to develop schizophrenia and related psychoses when they are older.

Researchers stated that the goal of their meta-analysis of 41 studies was a quantitative synthesis of 31 years of existing data on the association between adverse childhood events and psychoses. They looked at childhood sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, parental death, and bullying.

Data showed that children who experienced adversity and trauma were 3 times more likely to develop psychotic symptoms or illness as adults than controls. The significant association with increased risk of psychosis indicates that exposure to adverse experiences in general raises psychosis risk, regardless of the exact nature of the exposure. There was no evidence that any specific type of trauma is a stronger predictor of psychosis than any other.

Although exposure to adverse events was assessed during childhood, data was lacking on the specific ages when the traumas occurred. Therefore, the study could not address the influence of age of exposure to psychosis outcome. Also, because the literature focused almost exclusively on hallucinatory and delusional symptoms, the data did not show whether adversity or trauma was associated with the development of specific symptoms.

The researchers point out that traumatic events in childhood tend to increase the risk of exposure to other adversities, and these disruptive events early in children’s development have a substantial effect on their subsequent functioning as adults.

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