Abused and bullied children are more likely to develop psychosis


Researchers at King’s College London have published an interesting paper in the American Journal of Psychiatry, which uses data from the Environmental Risk Longitudinal Twin Study; a cohort study of children in England and Wales born in 1994 and 1995.

The research question they posed was whether trauma during childhood such as maltreatment, bullying or accidents was likely to increase the risk of developing psychotic symptoms.

They found that:

  • Children who experienced mal-treatment by an adult (relative risk=3.16, 95% CI=1.92-5.19) or bullying by peers (relative risk=2.47, 95% CI=1.74-3.52) were more likely to report psychotic symptoms at age 12 than were children who did not experience such traumatic events.
  • The higher risk for psychotic symptoms was observed whether these events occurred early in life or later in childhood.
  • The risk associated with childhood trauma remained significant in analyses controlling for children’s gender, socioeconomic deprivation, and IQ; for children’s early symptoms of internalizing or externalizing problems; and for children’s genetic liability to developing psychosis.
  • In contrast, the risk associated with accidents was small (relative risk=1.47, 95% CI=1.02-2.13) and inconsistent across ages.

The authors concluded:

Trauma characterized by intention to harm is associated with children’s reports of psychotic symptoms. Clinicians working with children who report early symptoms of psychosis should inquire about traumatic events such as maltreatment and bullying.


Arseneault L, Cannon M, Fisher HL, Polanczyk G, MoffittTE, Caspi A. Childhood trauma and children’s emerging psychotic symptoms: A genetically sensitive longitudinal cohort study. Am J Psychiatry. 2011 Jan;168(1):65-72. [PubMed abstract].

Patricia Cohen, Ph.D. Editorial: Abuse in Childhood and the Risk for Psychotic Symptoms in Later Life. Am J Psychiatry 168:7-8, January 2011.

Share on Facebook Tweet this on Twitter Share on LinkedIn Share on Google+
Mark as read
Create a personal elf note about this blog
Profile photo of Andre Tomlin

Andre Tomlin

André Tomlin is an Information Scientist with 20 years experience working in evidence-based healthcare. He's worked in the NHS, for Oxford University and since 2002 as Managing Director of Minervation Ltd, a consultancy company who do clever digital stuff for charities, universities and the public sector. Most recently André has been the driving force behind the Mental Elf and the National Elf Service; an innovative digital platform that helps professionals keep up to date with simple, clear and engaging summaries of evidence-based research. André is a Trustee at the Centre for Mental Health and an Honorary Research Fellow at University College London Division of Psychiatry. He lives in Bristol, surrounded by dogs, elflings and lots of woodland!

More posts - Website

Follow me here –