Impact of childhood adversity on the onset and course of subclinical psychosis symptoms — Results from a 30-year prospective community study

Schizophrenia Research (Impact Factor: 3.92). 03/2014; 153(1-3). DOI: 10.1016/j.schres.2014.01.040


The study objective was to examine childhood adversity in association with intra-individual changes and inter-individual differences in subclinical psychosis in a representative community cohort over a 30-year period of observation.
We analyzed two psychosis syndromes derived from the SCL-90-R – schizotypal signs and schizophrenia nuclear symptoms – in 335 participants. Participants were repeatedly assessed between 1978 (around age 20) and 2008 (around age 50). We focused specifically on inter-individual differences and intra-individual changes over time by applying structural equation modeling, generalized linear models, and generalized estimating equations.
Several weak inter-individual differences revealed that increased schizotypal signs are related to various childhood adversities, such as being repeatedly involved in fights and parents having severe conflicts among themselves. We also found a significant positive association between schizotypal signs and the total number of adversities a subject experienced. This pointed toward a modest dose–response relationship. The intra-individual change in schizotypal signs over time was rather weak, although some adjustment did occur. In contrast, inter-individual schizophrenia nuclear symptoms were mainly unrelated to childhood adversity. However, some striking intra-individual changes in distress were noted over time, especially those linked with severe punishment and the total adversity score.
In conclusion, we have confirmed previous positive findings about the association between childhood adversity and subsequent subclinical psychosis symptoms: An increase in adversity is weakly related to an increase of the psychosis symptom load. However, depending on the kind of adversity experienced the psychosis symptom load decreases gradually in adult life.

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    • "Although neither of these groups showed an age effect, both indicated a family history of mental illness. We do not know if this is a clue for a genetic predisposition, a sign of adverse rearing conditions, or a combination of both (Rössler et al., 2014). A low level of education and unemployment were risk factors for both groups. "
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