Childhood abuse could significantly increase the risk of psychosis in later life

Childhood abuse could significantly increase the risk of psychosis in later life, according to research by University of Ulster psychologists.

Using data from a large American epidemiological mental health survey, based on a nationally representative sample of over 5000 people, Dr Mark Shevlin and Dr Gary Adamson found that social and environmental factors, such as childhood abuse, could significantly increase the risk of psychosis in later life.

The study carried out by the Magee-based research team has just been published in one of the world’s most highly regarded psychiatry journals, the January edition of the American Journal of Psychiatry, the official journal of the American Psychiatric Association,

“In psychiatry there are a number of disorders that come under the general title of psychosis, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

The traditional psychiatric view has generally emphasized biological and genetic factors as causes.

But there is a growing acceptance that non-biological factors, in particular traumatic life events, are implicated in the origins of psychosis. We found that those people who reported childhood abuse were significantly more likely to be diagnosed with psychosis.

Other traumas, such as rape, were also found to predict psychosis, said Dr Shevlin. “Our work in this area is continuing with ongoing collaborative research into the nature of psychosis with colleagues from Department of Psychiatry and Neuroscience at Maastricht University” he said

Dr Shevlin adds that while retrospective reporting of childhood trauma, especially from individuals with psychotic illnesses, represented a potential methodological problem, previous work indicated that such reports were usually reliable.

The findings highlight the importance of obtaining a full history of childhood experiences during clinical assessment to ensure an appropriate treatment is planned. Some recent research has indicated that psychological treatments for psychosis, rather than medication, are effective for individuals who have suffered childhood abuse.

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