In the past, research on how schizophrenia develops in individuals focused heavily on genetic factors. However, more recent research is now making it increasingly clear that the environment in which we grew up is strongly related to our chances of developing a psychotic disorder, such as schizophrenia, in adulthood. Indeed, a meta-analysis of the relevant research, conducted at the University of Liverpool in the United Kingdom, suggests that those individuals who were brought up in the care system are at significantly increased risk of developing paranoia (often a major symptom of schizophrenia) as adults.
Schizophrenia (including, of course, paranoid schizophrenia) is a form of psychosis (psychosis involves the affected person losing touch with reality / entering delusional states). The research conducted by the University of Liverpool also revealed that those who suffered severe childhood trauma were at significantly increased risk of developing not just paranoia, but a range of psychotic conditions. One figure derived from this research is quite staggering : in cases of severe childhood trauma, the individual affected may be 5,000% (i.e. 50 times) more likely to develop psychosis than the average person.
In connection with those who had suffered any form of trauma during childhood, such individuals were found to be at a 300% (3 times higher) increased risk of developing psychosis later on in life when compared to the average.
The bottom-line is, we may conclude from this research, is that the environment (i.e. the degree to which it is experienced as traumatic) in which one grows up is strongly associated with one’s risk of developing a psychotic disorder in later life.
And, just as it has already been found that being brought up in a care home increases one’s risk of developing paranoia later in life, it is thought other specific forms of psychosis may be linked to other specific forms of childhood trauma – however, research into this area is still at an early stage.
Finally, it should also be stated that genetic factors may also play a role; for example, some individuals may be ‘genetically’ more resilient to the adverse effects of trauma than others. Further research into this area, too, needs to be conducted so that the role of genes in the development of psychosis may be more fully understood.
In the past, people with psychotic conditions have largely been treated according to the medical model (sometimes called the biological model) of mental illness; in other words, with medication. However, the above findings suggest that non-medicinal interventions may also be vitally required, such as ‘talk therapies’- therapies of this type may help the individual to process, and come to terms with, his/her traumatic past. One such therapy is trauma-focused cognitive therapy.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).