Researchers find strong link between emotional abuse and schizophrenia-like experiences
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Researchers find strong link between emotional abuse and schizophrenia-like experiences

by Freya Lucas

July 18, 2022

There is a strong link between childhood emotional abuse and schizophrenia-like experiences (such as paranoia, hearing voices, and social withdrawal) in healthy adults, a new study from the University of Hertfordshire study has found.

 

Those who experienced emotional abuse in early life are 3.5x more likely to have schizophrenia-like experiences in adulthood. Researchers also found that the more significant the abuse, the more severe the schizophrenia-like experiences adults have.

 

The research is the first to summarise and quantify studies (25 in total) that have explored the relationship between childhood trauma and schizophrenia-like experiences in over 15,000 healthy people.

 

Researchers analysed the findings of past research to see whether specific types of abuse, such as emotional, sexual and physical abuse, as well as emotional and physical neglect, increased the likelihood of having schizophrenia-like experiences in later life.

 

They found a much stronger link between childhood emotional abuse and schizophrenic-like experiences in adulthood than other types of childhood abuse.

 

The relationship between childhood trauma and schizophrenia, a serious mental health condition, is well known. However, far less research has examined the impact of childhood trauma on the prevalence of less severe schizophrenia-like experiences in healthy adults.

 

Researchers believe their findings could show that schizophrenia is a condition on a spectrum, like autism, where healthy people can have schizophrenia-like episodes without meeting the diagnosable threshold.

 

Lead researcher Dr Diamantis Toutountzidis worked with Professor Keith Laws, noting the significance of the findings in showcasing the damage emotional abuse can cause. 

 

“Emotional abuse differs from other types of abuse. It is more common, often happens over longer periods of time, and is not treated in law the same way that physical or sexual abuse is,” he explained.

 

“Our research has shown a significant link between childhood emotional abuse and schizophrenia-like experiences in healthy adults, and that emotional abuse is a stronger predictor of schizophrenia-like experiences than other types of abuse. This is something mental health professionals should consider when looking to tackle the root causes of schizophrenia-like experiences in people suffering from them.”

 

Professor Laws added that he hopes the research will “open the door” to future studies that help better understand how specific types of childhood abuse are linked to specific schizophrenia-like experiences much later in life.

 

Access the findings here

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