Childhood sexual abuse and physical abuse have been shown to increase a child’s risk for psychosis later in life. However, a new study led by A. A. Bartels-Velthuis of the University Center for Psychiatry at the University of Groningen in The Netherlands suggests general childhood adversity and not abuse is a primary indicator of auditory vocal hallucinations (AVHs). In the study, Bartels-Velthuis looked at how specific childhood adversity, including stressful events (SE) and socially traumatic events (TE) contributed to the maintenance of AVHs in children. AVHs are not uncommon in extremely young children, but the persistence of these types of hallucinations is often an indicator of psychosis or other mental health issues. For this study, Bartels-Velthuis examined 337 children who ranged in age from 12 to 13 years old. These children were assessed as a follow-up to a previous study conducted by Bartels-Velthuis that had evaluated AVHs 5 years previously. The first study had shown that AVHs were very common in the children and were not directly related to any specific childhood abuse or adversity.
In the follow-up, Bartels-Velthuis discovered that one-third of the children had experienced at least one hallucination, and 43% believed they may have had an AVH. The most common delusions were paranoid in nature and were more common in the children who had reported AVHs 5 years earlier than in those who had not. Over one-third of the children reported a complete absence of AVHs that had been present previously. And almost one-half of the participants had no AVHs in either study. Bartels-Velthuis found that although some children, approximately 1%, reported childhood sexual abuse, the most common experiences in the children with AVHs at follow-up were TE and SE. In fact, the severity of both TE and SE were directly related to frequency of AVHs. Bartels-Velthuis believes that childhood social adversity may be challenging for all children. But those who exhibit AVHs early in childhood may find any social obstacles particularly emotionally difficult, and those obstacles may make them more vulnerable to future psychological problems. Bartels-Velthuis added, “Paying attention to (and treatment of) hallucinatory and delusional experiences in the earliest stages may be helpful in preventing possible transition to overt mental illness.”
Bartels-Velthuis, A. A., Van De Willige, G., Jenner, J.A., Wiersma, D., Van Os, J. Auditory Hallucinations in Childhood: Associations with Adversity and Delusional Ideation. Psychological Medicine 42.3 (2012): 583-93. Print.
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