Childhood abuse associated with onset of psychosis in women

Apr 01, 2009

Researchers at the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London have published new research which indicates that women with severe mental illness are more likely to have been abused in childhood that the general population. But the same association has not been found in men.

The researchers believe their findings point to differences in the way boys and girls respond to traumatic and upsetting experiences. The paper which is published in the April issue of the British Journal of Psychiatry compared two groups of adults with all the participants were aged between 16 and 64, and lived in either south-east London or Nottingham.

Those in the first group had experienced psychotic symptoms, such as or delusions and received treatment for , mania or . Those in the second group had no mental health problems, and acted as a control sample. Both groups were asked whether they experienced physical or sexual abuse during their childhood.

Women with psychosis were twice as likely to report either physical or sexual abuse compared to healthy women. But no such association was found in men.

The researchers suggest that one explanation for this is that girls are more likely to 'internalise' difficulties than boys. In other words, girls who are abused may distance themselves from other people, and become overly suspicious of other people's behaviour. This may put them at greater risk of psychotic symptoms in the future, such as paranoid delusions.

In contrast, boys may be more likely to 'act out' following physical abuse and potentially be at greater risk for antisocial behaviour.

The lead author on this paper, Helen Fisher, Researcher in Psychosis at the Institute of Psychiatry at King's said: "These findings do not mean that if a child is abused they will develop psychosis; but women with such disorders are more likely to reveal a background which included childhood abuse.

"These findings point to the need for gender-specific interventions for abused children to prevent later mental health and behavioural problems."

"We also know that there are psychological, biological and genetic factors that may contribute to this condition in women and more attention needs to be given to understanding how adult psychosis develops. Excitingly we have just been awarded a Wellcome Trust grant to repeat this original study on a larger scale to enable us to investigate the factors involved in this link between childhood abuse and psychotic disorders."

More information: "Gender differences in the association between childhood abuse and psychosis" is published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, 194: 319-325.

Source: King's College London

Explore further: Report advocates improved police training

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Differences in recovered memories of childhood sexual abuse

Feb 02, 2009

When a child experiences a traumatic event, such as sexual abuse, it may not be until well into adulthood that they remember the incident. It is not known how adults are able to retrieve long-forgotten memories of abuse and ...

Women who suffered child abuse spend more on health care

Feb 19, 2008

Middle-aged women who suffered physical or sexual abuse as children spend up to one-third more than average in health-care costs, according to a long-term study of more than 3,000 women. Even decades after the abuse ended, ...

Female sex offenders often have mental problems

May 14, 2008

Women who commit sexual offences are just as likely to have mental problems or drug addictions as other violent female criminals. This according to the largest study ever conducted of women convicted of sexual offences in ...

Recommended for you

Report advocates improved police training

Aug 29, 2014

A new report released yesterday by the Mental Health Commission of Canada identifies ways to improve the mental health training and education that police personnel receive.

Meaningful relationships can help you thrive

Aug 29, 2014

Deep and meaningful relationships play a vital role in overall well-being. Past research has shown that individuals with supportive and rewarding relationships have better mental health, higher levels of subjective well-being ...

Learning to read involves tricking the brain

Aug 29, 2014

While reading, children and adults alike must avoid confusing mirror-image letters (like b/d or p/q). Why is it difficult to differentiate these letters? When learning to read, our brain must be able to inhibit ...

User comments : 0