Does Childhood Trauma Cause Schizophrenia?
I remember when I was doing my first degree in psychology at the University of London that, when we studied schizophrenia, in trying to explain its causes we concentrated largely upon examining genetic explanations and, also, explanations based upon the existence of individual differences in brain chemistry and brain biology.
More recently, however, evidence has been accumulating that if an individual suffers childhood trauma then this, too, puts him/ her at greater risk of developing this most debilitating of psychiatric conditions.
Indeed, a study at the University of Liverpool and Maastricht in the Netherlands lends support to this theory. The study looked at data from three groups of people
a) individuals who were known to have suffered childhood trauma who were followed up in their adult lives (the study was what is known as longitudinal and examined 30 years’ worth of data)
b) psychotic individuals who were asked about their childhoods
c) randomly selected individuals (data obtained from this third group served as a comparison point against which to intertpret the data generated from the above two groups). This is also known as the control group.
THE FINDINGS OBTAINED FROM THE STUDY:
– those who had suffered childhood trauma prior to the age of 16 were 3 times more likely to develop psychosis in adulthood than were the individuals from the group of randomly selected individuals (group ‘c’ above)
– the more serious the individuals’ experiences of childhood trauma were, the more likely they were to develop psychosis later on during their lives
– those who had suffered the most serious types of trauma were found to be up to 50 times more likely to go on to develop schizophrenia than individuals who had been randomly selected for the study
– different kinds of trauma resulted in the development of different types of psychiatric symptoms. For example, those individuals who had spent significant amounts of time in children’s homes were particularly likely to develop symptoms of paranoia later on during their lives
In the light of these findings, they expert Professor Bengal stressed the importance that those who were responsible for diagnosing psychiatric patients should ask them about their childhood experiences as a matter of routine.
Above: Differences in the brains of schizophrenics.
Professor Bengal also drew attention to the need for further research into the effects of childhood experiences on the physical developing brain ( click here to view details of my book on this) and also into genetic factors that may help to explain why some individuals are more resilient to the adverse effects of childhood trauma than others.
Finally, he called for further research into why symptoms of trauma often do not appear in an individual until years after the traumatic experiences have taken place. For example, a person who suffered childhood trauma between the ages of , say, eight and twelve, may not display overt psychiatric symptoms caused by it until his/her twenties.
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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).