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Debate About Childhood Trauma And Schizophrenia Settled

University of Auckland. Media Release. 26.4.2012

Debate About Childhood Trauma And Schizophrenia Settled By Review Of 46 Studies

Researchers at the Universities of Liverpool. Maastricht (Netherlands) and Auckland have found that children who have experienced childhood trauma are three times more likely to develop schizophrenia in later life.

The findings, based on analysing 46 studies involving 80,000 subjects, shed new light on the debate about the importance of genetic and environmental triggers of psychotic disorders. For decades research has focused on the biological factors behind conditions such as schizophrenia, but there is now conclusive evidence that these conditions cannot be fully understood without looking at the patients’ life experiences.

This is the first ‘meta-analysis’ to analyse 30 years of studies on the association between childhood trauma and the psychosis. The researchers looked at more than 27,000 research papers to extract data from three types of studies; those addressing the progress of children known to have experienced adversity; studies of randomly selected members of the population; and research on psychotic patients who were asked about their early childhood. The analysis covered physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, bullying, and parental death.

Across all three types of studies the results led to similar conclusions. Children who had experienced any type of trauma before the age of 16 were approximately three times more likely to become psychotic in adulthood compared to those selected randomly from the population. There was also a relationship between the level of trauma and the likelihood of psychosis later life. Those that were severely traumatised as children were at a greater risk, in some cases up to 50 times increased risk, than those who experienced trauma to a lesser extent. The paper concludes that “childhood adversity is strongly associated with increased risk for psychosis”.

Professor Richard Bentall, from the University of Liverpool:

“Now that we know environment is a major factor in psychosis and that there are direct links between specific experiences and symptoms of the condition, it is even more vital that psychiatric services routinely question patients about their life experience. Surprisingly, some psychiatric teams do not address these issues and only focus on treating a patient with medication.”

Professor John Read, from the University of Auckland’s Psychology Department:
“This remains a controversial topic, so to have a sophisticated meta-analysis of all the relevant research find that childhood adversities definitely are causal factors for psychosis, which some psychiatrists still think is a biological illness, is very important”

ENDS

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