Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Study Offers Clues on Increasing Resiliency in Children Exposed to Abuse

Experiencing multiple forms of abuse early in life can increase the likelihood a child will develop psychotic symptoms. A report in Schizophrenia Bulletin now suggests there are several factors that may offer some protection from this risk. According to the authors of the study, such findings could be used to inform the content or focus of interventions for at-risk youth.

The findings are based on data collected as part of the Environmental Risk Longitudinal Twin Study, which began tracking the development of a nationally representative birth cohort of 2,232 U.K.-born twins at age 5. At the start of the trial, children were given tests to assess IQ, cognitive function, and prosocial behavior. Information on household income, education, and occupation was also collected at the study start to determine family socioeconomic status (SES). The researchers assessed the children for exposure to physical maltreatment by an adult, sexual abuse, emotional abuse and neglect, bullying, and domestic violence at ages 5, 7, 10, and 12 through interviews with children, mothers, and/or direct observation. At age 12, the children were asked to report any hallucinations or delusions and complete several assessments to gauge anxiety and depression. Several measures were also used to assess the children for conduct disorder at age 12.

A total of 140 children were found to have been exposed to two or more types of victimization prior to age 12; 1,986 were exposed to one or no types of victimization. Psychotic symptoms at age 12 were more commonly reported by children who were exposed to multiple types of victimization than in those who were not (19.3% vs 4.9%, respectively)—an association that remained after controlling for SES and family history of mental health problems. A more positive atmosphere at home and relatively high IQ were associated with a reduced likelihood of psychotic symptoms emerging among children exposed to poly-victimization.

“[I]t is possible that a relatively high IQ could facilitate the development of effective coping styles that have previously been found to bolster resiliency against mental health problems, and therefore, might also be protective against the onset of psychotic symptoms,” wrote Helen Fisher, Ph.D., of King’s College London and colleagues. Additionally, “[e]ven for children where victimization does take place within the home, if there are other positive aspects to the environment, then children may be able to benefit from these, perhaps by buffering their overall stress response.” 

About 81% of the poly-victimized children did not report psychotic symptoms at age 12, but, compared with children who were not victimized, they were more likely to have conduct disorder (24.8% vs. 4.1%, respectively), depression (10.6% vs 2.3%), and extreme levels of anxiety (11.5% vs 5.0%) at age 12. 

For related information, see the Psychiatric News article “Hallucinations Can Be Marker For Variety of Psychiatric Disorders in Youth.”

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