Sexual Abuse in Youth May Lead to Schizophrenia in Later Life

Professor Paul Bebbington, head of the Department of Mental Health Sciences at the University College London, told the Congress of the Royal College of Psychiatrists 2011, that children who are abused or engage in non-consensual sexual intercourse are at a significantly increased risk for the development of schizophrenia. In a recent article, Bebbington explained that when this type of abuse is experienced before the age of 16, it contributes to more than 15 percent of all psychotic problems, including schizophrenia. “The worse the abuse, the more it increases the risk of developing psychosis. Someone who has experienced non-consensual sexual intercourse before the age of 16 is 10 times more likely to develop the mental disorder,” Bebbington told the Congress. He added, “This is especially significant because sexual abuse is common in childhood. Eight in every 100 people have experienced molestation while one per cent of men and three per cent of women report having had non-consensual sexual intercourse under the age of 16. It is possible to calculate that if childhood sexual abuse ceased, there might be as much as a 17 per cent reduction in people suffering from schizophrenia.”

Bebbington was is senior author of new research which has shown that this type of abuse is linked to psychosis. The research also revealed that sexual molestation and even unwelcome sexual talk, was also linked to the development of mental health problems. Bebbington said, “The increased risk of psychosis may be linked to the intrusive nature of childhood sexual abuse and having no control over what is happening to you. It has disastrous effects on self-esteem and psychological well-being, and is linked to paranoia and suspiciousness – even in people who don’t go on to develop psychosis.” Bebbington added that services should be made available to all victims of this type of abuse in order to prevent the mental health problems associated with these traumas from developing.

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  • Kimi

    July 8th, 2011 at 11:45 PM

    Sexual abuse is a kind of abuse like no other.It’s not only a physical abuse,but also a mental,psychological abuse and also an intrusion of a person’s self.And if such a thing happens in childhood,the impact can be huge and effects disastrous.

  • toby

    July 9th, 2011 at 5:00 AM

    Who are these pervs who want to do this to kids? And now to think that not only are you screwing with their heads and how they relate to other people in life, you also are setting them up to be mentally damaged with schizophrenia! Come on! Who would do this to a child? And to know the kind of future you are mapping out for them? I could never do that to someone!

  • L.P.

    July 9th, 2011 at 9:30 PM

    I thought schizophrenia was a condition where you have it or you don’t when you’re born and it’s just a matter of time until it surfaces. Does this mean that if you suffer child abuse it can manifest even if you never had the leaning towards that before?

  • JARED

    July 9th, 2011 at 11:50 PM

    There are really sick people in this world,my friend.And that is exactly why we need harsher sentences for those that indulge in these kind of offenses.It’s not just offending a Minor but is more like offending humanity.

  • Jackson

    July 10th, 2011 at 10:19 AM

    I am like LP. I thought that schizophrenia would be a disorder that you would be born with and not just dispositioned to get it later in life. I did not know that there would be some kind of trigger that could jump start it- but instead that it would just begin to “be” a part of the person. I am not sure that I like the implications here. They might just be a little bit misleading to some [people. I know that being sexually abused as a child can cause all kinds of problems later in life- that clearly makes sense. But schizophrenia? I think that I will withhold judgement on that til I get to do a little more reading.

  • John Lee LMHC

    July 10th, 2011 at 10:30 AM

    People with schizophrenia have a particular marker in their DNA that makes them susceptible to schizophrenia. suspiciousness, intrusive thoughts/images are symptoms of trauma that can be confused with psychosis.

  • Kalen

    July 11th, 2011 at 4:40 AM

    This is such a sad assumption. First you have to deal with unwanted sex at an early age and then the prospect of being mentally ill for the rest of your life. That is really pretty daunting and scary.

  • NP

    July 11th, 2011 at 10:11 AM

    This is not a small finding,really.It goes on to make child abuse that much of an evil and the people who commit such crimes that much of devils.Such people deserve no kind of mercy in the course of justice.

  • norman

    July 11th, 2011 at 11:58 PM

    sexual abuse in minors can really hamper them mentally and lead to a whole bunch of problems and complications.the trauma that they undergo cannot even be described.it must really take a monster to commit such a crime.

  • jodie gibbs

    July 12th, 2011 at 10:22 AM

    @L.P: It’s my layman’s understanding that many triggers can exacerbate the manifestation of schizophrenia.

    If you do drugs, it can alter your perceptions of things in that moment as well as have long-term effects on your perspective.

  • Sheila G.

    July 12th, 2011 at 11:28 AM

    Is “non-consensual sexual intercourse” what we’re calling it now? That really deadens the impact of the harsh word that is actually spelled “R-A-P-E”. Serious issues should have serious words and not get watered down with political correctness. Especially when it’s about child abuse.

  • Halle T.

    July 12th, 2011 at 10:33 PM

    @JARED- One who kills or rapes a child is often targeted in prison for rapes, beatings, and even murder. They will fear for their lives the whole time they’re in jail. I’m happy they have that additional punishment to look forward to. Perhaps it will give them a tiny clue how their victims felt.

  • Oonagh Greene

    July 12th, 2011 at 10:58 PM

    I think this study should be conducted in other countries as well, especially ones with very different opinions on sex and sexuality. A foreigner visiting the UK may well be more offended by the topless pictures of women which appear in a popular British tabloid newspaper daily than a Brit would for example that has grown up with that being the norm. Different cultures have different mindsets.

  • Mack

    July 14th, 2011 at 12:25 AM

    @Oonagh: The study was actually done in London.

    The Brits in general are fairly liberal on the subject of sex though not as much as some of their European counterparts and certainly more so than they were a few generations ago. I agree it would be interesting to see if the results could be duplicated in another country.

  • Olivia L

    July 14th, 2011 at 8:39 PM

    “if childhood sexual abuse ceased”…

    That right there is a big “if”. Sadly there will always be child molesters, no matter what. It’s already illegal to have sexual contact with a minor or a relative,and that doesn’t stop them. Knowing that child molesters are targeted by other inmates in prison isn’t enough of a deterrent for them either.

    There is nothing we can do beyond what we already are doing and it’s very frustrating and distressing to know it keeps happening to these innocent children unless we take drastic measures. Me, I’m all for an automatic death penalty for child rapists if that’s what it takes to make them think twice.

  • Marc Wagner

    July 15th, 2011 at 6:09 PM

    @toby – I know, it’s horrific isn’t it? The aftermath of abuse goes on and on, particularly if nothing is done to help these children deal with what happened to them.

    That’s why counseling and therapy is so crucial to their future wellbeing and it’s important for it to be reported if you suspect or know it’s happening. God bless them all.

  • James E. Roenspie

    December 18th, 2012 at 2:56 PM

    Molested/raped at seventeen by a man who was god and also, the Principal. Since this moment, I have spent my entire life trying to retify this “robbing of myself”. I am now sixty-two and the Psychiatrist believe me to be schizophrenic. Is this accurate?

  • JWG

    March 13th, 2013 at 6:30 PM

    When I was 8 year old I was molested by a dope head my mother lived with after divorcing my father. I have had horrible experiences throughout my lifetime and want everyone to know that I have dealt with being paranoid all of my life. I don’t trust people as far as I can see them especially men but always still gravitated toward the awful ones in this world. I have been a single parent and never married due to all of the turmoil this has caused me in my life. I hope that when that asshole dies he burns in you know where. I have always wondered by my mom called me paranoid but now I know.

  • grieving daughter

    May 17th, 2013 at 10:08 AM

    my mother recently passed away and was a victim of sexual child abuse by her step father who was a cop and her mother didn’t believe/care what had happened for almost seven years and remained in physical or mentally abusive relationships.Just found out after looking through her things (that she never wanted us to look through when we were young)a prescription of pills for schizo. makes us feel really bad she went through all that and wasn’t comfortable with telling her daughters. we could tell she was hiding something and she was a unique individual but very loving and caring. miss her so much has me worried if its inheritable bc my bro has been acting off for sometime.

  • grieving daughter

    May 17th, 2013 at 10:10 AM

    JWG sounds like a lot like my moms experience, definitely had trust issues especially leaving her kids alone with anyone.

  • Bridie

    May 17th, 2013 at 3:40 PM

    Maybe we should be stronger and legally stop these perpetrators (of young innocebt children) some of them still appear to be ‘loose in society’ re offending, and notbrought to justice. How can these offenders be brought to justice when they are still holding ‘powers of their family’, and sometimes the police aren’t willing to prosecute them. Any suggestions

  • Bridie

    May 17th, 2013 at 3:44 PM

    Maybe we should be stronger and legally stop these perpetrators (of young innocent children) some of them still appear to be ‘loose in society’ re offending, and not brought to justice. How can these offenders be brought to justice when they are still holding ‘powers over their family’, and sometimes the police aren’t willing to prosecute them. Any suggestions

  • matt

    December 9th, 2013 at 2:50 PM

    I am 47. I am male. I was raped every night and made to stand against a door while this Bastard threw kitchen knives at me, also made to go under his bed sheets and pick the spots from his Backside and upper legs…i will never forget the smell.Thia went on for 18 months every night as my dear mother was out working. I was 4 years old. My life was ruined by this bastard. Tried to take him to court in 2005,was told that there was NO evidence. Am i not evidence?

    Love and peace.

  • Lizz

    March 20th, 2014 at 4:43 AM

    Kimi i agree with you completely! My brother was raped from the age of 6 to 12 by a cousin.He has developed a lot of anger all his life towards his family and people around him..we never understood why until he confessed to me at the age of 18 that he was rapped and has been dealing with this in silence all his life. At the age of 21 my brother has been admitted to a phych ward at the hospital for severe phsychotic crisis.He is now doing better but dr. Has diagnosed him with schizophrenia. I do not know if early child abuse causes scizo. or not but in my opinion i strongly believe it does. There is no history of schizo. in my entire family.

  • Tiffany

    July 17th, 2014 at 10:27 PM

    I was sexually and violently assulted by my stepfather for 10 years between the ages of 3-13 as well as being neglected almost my entire life. Up until I reached the age of thirteen I thought this was completely normal, I though this was what life is and that every kid went through this and despite what was happening i showed respect to my mother and her partner. Once I had hit 13 my mother and stepfather had separated and I had to go on living with him as my mother was very depressed and was drinking a lot and could not take care of us, then oneday my teacher took me outside and asked me about a few cuts and bruises and I went on telling her what I had been experiencing, she got police and child safety involved and I was taken back into my mothers care despite how broke she was, and despite that there was no food in the house. Until this very moment in my life, when I found out that my life wasn’t what I thought it was, and I realised that all that pain and confusion was something nobody should have to go through let alone myself, I had never once raised my voice in anger, I was a quiet, placid kid, had very few friends and generally was always smiling, When my parents yelled I would get scared and cry. But once I realised everything was different, I turned against all authority, I became violent, I began losing myself, at the age of 14 I was admitted to a psych ward for three months where I was diagnosed with schizophrenia. It’s something I battle with everyday and I’m in constant fear of snapping because I know I could potentially hurt somebody that I don’t want to or even worse. But I believe that what I went through has a strong impact on my illness and I very highly doubt I would have ever developed this illness if it weren’t for what my stepfather did to me.

  • The GoodTherapy.org Team

    July 18th, 2014 at 9:32 AM

    Thank you for your comment, Tiffany. We wanted to provide links to some resources that may be relevant to you here. We have more information about what to do in a crisis at http://www.goodtherapy.org/in-crisis.html

    Warm regards,
    The GoodTherapy.org Team

  • tiffanh

    February 23rd, 2015 at 6:35 PM

    Thank u 4 your story. I feel sometimes I’m alone. I always thought it was my fault. I was scared to tell. I also have been told that I have a mental disorder. I am living this nightmare every time I close my eyes. It’s not our fault we were kids.We trusted a person who should had protected us.I love u 4 sharing your situation with me and the world.

  • Tiffany W

    February 23rd, 2015 at 7:46 PM

    It’s hard to live after being sexually abused. people say life goes on but it doesn’t. it repeats itself in your mind everyday,every moment, every second in your head and it eats u alive like, like a shark in the middle of the ocean and u screaming 4 bloody revenge. U want to take back your life but the situation is playing over and over in your mind.

  • Tiffany W

    February 23rd, 2015 at 8:26 PM

    I think u r right but I didn’t experience mental illness until I was raped at 14. It does have a presence in my family(mental illness)I experience it at after I was raped. It traumatized me.I had psychosis but I’m not a drug addict.I have been struggling all my life and I am 32yrs old. I know raped can cause mental illness because I am a living example of it.

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