Difficult Childhood Increases Psychosis in Women at Risk for Depression

Children who experience difficulties in childhood are at increased risk for various negative mental health outcomes. Two of these outcomes, depression and psychosis, have been linked to adversity in childhood. Sexual abuse, physical abuse, maltreatment, and neglect experienced during childhood are some of the traumas that have been shown to increase a woman’s risk for both psychotic symptoms and depressive symptoms later in life. However, little attention has been given to how genetic risk for depression influences the development of psychosis in women who have dealt with significant childhood adversities. To address this issue specifically, I.M.A. Kramer of Geestelijke Gezondheidszorg Eindhoven en De Kempen mental health institute in the Netherlands led a study examining how genetic risk for depression affected a woman’s risk for psychosis resulting from childhood trauma or adversity. Kramer evaluated 508 female twins for psychotic traits, stress sensitivity, negative affect, and childhood adversity.

The results indicated that the women who had a family history of depression were more likely to develop symptoms of psychosis than those who did not, even though both groups of women experienced difficult childhoods. However, increased sensitivity to stress did not elevate the risk for psychosis. Kramer believes that the experience of depressive symptoms, or the genetic risk for depression, impairs emotional regulation, thus causing women to use maladaptive coping strategies to manage childhood traumas. These strategies then make these women more susceptible to moderate to extreme symptoms of psychosis than women who have healthy emotional regulation. Because the women with a family history of depression did exhibit more symptoms of psychosis at follow-up, the results suggest an underlying common genetic link between psychosis and depression. The findings from this study support previous research that shows women at risk for depression, who have suffered with childhood abuse or maltreatment, may be vulnerable to psychosis. Kramer summed up the results by adding, “Genetic liability for depression may potentiate the pathway from childhood adversity to psychotic-like symptoms through dysfunctional emotional processing of anomalous experiences associated with childhood trauma.”

Kramer, I.M.A., Simons, C.J.P., Myin-Germeys, I., Jacobs, N., Derom, C., Thiery, E., Van Os, J., Wichers, M. (2012.) Evidence That Genes for Depression Impact on the Pathway from Trauma to Psychotic-like Symptoms by Occasioning Emotional Dysregulation.Psychological Medicine 42.2, 283-294. Print.

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  • Miranda


    March 6th, 2012 at 5:13 AM

    If you think about it, then these women have a lot of difficulties facing them in life. Not only have they faced adversity in life with childhood abuse but they may also be genetically predisposed to depression, and that is a HUGE battle for anyone to face. I pull for these kinds of people- they are the underdogs and they have to have a little bit of fight in them to survive all of that. I don’t think that it comes as a surprise that a lot of this is interrelated, but I do think that a lot of us would be really stunted facing that and it is really something to watch and root for their recovery.

  • Grace


    March 6th, 2012 at 4:30 PM

    I really wish that those who inflict pain and suffering on a child could just have a glimpse into what kind of life they are setting this person up for later on.

    This is something that is always going to follow them, and they really have to be that kind of special person who can pull themselves up by their bootstraps to rise above some of that.

    Not that it would change anything or would make any kind of difference really, but it would be great to imagine that it could open their eyes and change the behavior os fomeone out there.

  • LL


    March 6th, 2012 at 8:12 PM

    What does a person do about genetic problems,about inherited health issues?Its almost like being punished for no mistake of you’re isn’t it?Always makes me feel pathetic when I hear about or see somebody like that..

  • Virginia


    March 7th, 2012 at 2:40 PM

    I agree with LL. If you have all of this working against you it must feel like there is no way that you can win.

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