Childhood Adversity Most Common Factor for Auditory Hallucinations

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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  • Libby


    March 13th, 2012 at 3:54 PM

    I can imagine that facing bause as a young and impressionable child could really set that child up for a lifetime of hurt. It goes far beyond the slaps and the bruises. It causes this kind of psychological damage that we can see from the evidence here and in many other instances does not fade away. In most cases as the child matures into an adult then the pain only grows if they have not been given a forum at some time in their lives to face it, confront it, and deal with it. Such a shame that the actions of others can cause so much lifetime hurt and pain in what were probably very innocent victims to begin with.

  • Larry C

    Larry C

    March 13th, 2012 at 5:34 PM

    Hallucinations as in scizophrenia?

  • Dazz


    March 14th, 2012 at 10:02 AM

    The major problem I see is that it is difficult to know if your child is depressed.And even then knowing about these auditory hallucinations is not always easy. Kids cannot accurately report things like these and many parents may not even think its a problem.

    Because of this, the symptoms may go unreported and cause more and more issues later in life.

    Educating children from a very early age about things such as these can not only help them understand what is happening but will also save them in the future.

  • Marguerite


    March 14th, 2012 at 10:48 AM

    Childhood adversity but not necessarily abuse can lead to a greater chance of experiencing these hallucinations. Ok so that means that if we grew up poor or in just a bad home environment in general then there is a greater likelihood that this is something that we could experience. I don’t know, I have a very hard time with this. This has always been for me something that I assumed that the environment that you were raised in had little effect on, if you were going to develop this it was because this is the way you are hard wired genetically. But all of this kind of turns that a little upside down and seems like how you are raised and the environment in which you are raised can heavily influence these disorders. I find it interesting and I am sure that more research is being done daily to either conform or deny this, but I am still a little on the fence about it.

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