There are a number of factors that put people at risk for schizophrenia, including genetic predisposition and environmental influences. Conditions experienced during childhood are also known to help determine risk for schizophrenia and other psychotic and non-psychotic problems. However, until now, no research has been conducted examining how childhood adversity affects risk for schizophrenia compared to other illnesses. To get a better idea of how various forms of adversity influence future mental health, Sandra L. Matheson of the Schizophrenia Research Institute in Sydney, Australia recently analyzed 25 separate studies about childhood adversity and mental health.
Matheson considered risk factors such as neglect, physical abuse, emotional abuse, childhood sexual abuse, and trauma, and assessed how much they increased the likelihood of mental health problems including anxiety, depression, bipolar, psychosis, post-traumatic stress (PTSD), and schizophrenia. She found that compared to participants with no evidence of psychiatric problems, those with schizophrenia had more childhood adversity. Specifically, childhood adversity predicted schizophrenia more than anxiety and increased the chance of dissociative disorders and PTSD more than schizophrenia. Matheson also discovered that childhood sexual abuse was more likely to predict PTSD, depression, and anxiety than schizophrenia. Upon further investigation, she found that childhood sexual abuse also had a small effect on the development of personality disorders.
The studies that Matheson looked at covered a broad range of childhood adversities and mental illnesses, but did not address every type of psychological problem. “No meta-analysis has yet been conducted that assesses rates of childhood adversity in affective psychosis,” said Matheson. Future work should be aimed at exploring the link between childhood adversity in general and more specifically with respect to psychosis. Until then, Matheson hopes the results of this study illuminate certain risk factors that could lead to the development of schizophrenia and other mental health problems. Clinicians working with clients who have experienced these types of events should be aware of the potential for these illnesses to develop and be mindful of symptoms that could indicate their presence.
Matheson, S. L., A. M. Shepherd, R. M. Pinchbeck, K. R. Laurens, and V. J. Carr. Childhood adversity in schizophrenia: A systematic meta-analysis. Psychological Medicine 43.2 (2013): 225-38. Print.
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