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Researchers find further links to psychosis and childhood maltreatment

12 March 2010

Researchers from the Institute of Psychiatry King’s College London have found that people with psychosis are three times more likely to report having experienced severe physical abuse from their mother before their 12th birthday.

In a bid to understand how maltreatment in childhood might contribute to the development of psychosis in early adulthood, Dr Helen Fisher analysed information collected from 182 people who had had a first episode of psychosis and 246 people with no experience of mental ill health. The analysis showed that just over 12 per cent of people who had experienced psychosis had also experienced physical abuse from their mother.  It also showed that people with psychosis were not more likely to have experienced abuse from their father.

Dr Fisher said: 'This is one of the first studies to search for more detailed information about abuse during childhood that may have been experienced by people with psychosis.   If maternal abuse during childhood is a contributing factor to the development of psychosis, it is one of many contributing factors, and only for a small proportion of people.’

She continues: ‘If there is an association, we then need to find out why it occurs. Further research could enable us to design services in future that target and take account of people’s experiences, and perhaps ultimately be able to intervene at an early age to help stop psychosis developing in young people who have experienced abuse of this nature.’

In addition, people who were abused in childhood may have problems trusting health professionals and building a therapeutic relationship. ‘A proportion of people will have had adverse experiences in childhood that impact on them as adults and any services they are offered – for psychosis or other mental health problems – should take account of that,’ she said.

Dr Fisher used information collected for the Medical Research Council-funded AESOP (Aetiology and Ethnicity in Schizophrenia and Other Psychoses) study from people living in London and Nottingham. AESOP is tracking people who experienced a first episode of psychosis over 10 years to find out more about what affects the outcome of psychosis and people’s use of mental health services.

The varying impact of type, timing and frequency of exposure to childhood adversity on its association with adult psychotic disorder, HL Fisher et al, published in Psychological Medicine, February 2010.

To read the paper in full, please follow the link:



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