Childhood Trauma and Psychosis

In the last decade, a substantial number of population-based studies have suggested that childhood trauma is a risk factor for psychosis. In several studies, the effects held after adjusting for a wide range of potentially confounding variables, including genetic liability for psychosis. Less is known about the mechanisms underlying the association between childhood trauma and psychosis. Possible pathways include relationships between negative perceptions of the self, negative affect, and psychotic symptoms, as well as biological mechanisms such as dysregulated cortisol and increased sensitivity to stress. Psychotic patients with a history of childhood trauma tend to present with a variety of additional problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder, greater substance abuse, higher levels of depression and anxiety, and more frequent suicide attempts. Initial studies suggest that trauma-specific treatments are as beneficial for these patients as for other diagnostic groups.

Ingo Schäfer, MD, MPH and Helen L. Fisher, PhD