Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Psychotic Symptoms in Childhood May Increase Risk of Poor Mental Health in Young Adulthood

Psychotic symptoms in childhood may indicate an increased risk for mental health problems and poor social outcomes in young adulthood, according to a study in Schizophrenia Bulletin.

Antonella Trotta, Ph.D., of King’s College London and colleagues analyzed data from the Environmental Risk Longitudinal Twin Study to determine whether psychotic symptoms at age 12 were associated with mental, social, and physical outcomes at age 18. As part of this study, 1,116 pairs of same-sex twins were asked at age 12 whether they had experienced psychotic symptoms such as delusions and hallucinations. The participants were interviewed again at age 18 to assess a variety of factors, including their physical health, symptoms of mental illness, life satisfaction, and educational attainment.

The researchers found that children who had psychotic symptoms at age 12 were more likely to have psychotic symptoms, depression, or anxiety at age 18 than their peers who did not have psychotic symptoms at age 12. They were also more likely to have attempted suicide or engaged in self-harm, be obese, smoke cigarettes, be lonely, and report a lower quality of life.

When the researchers compared the twins within families with each other, however, they found “that most of the associations between childhood psychotic symptoms and poor outcomes in young adulthood were explained by familial factors suggesting that early psychotic phenomena could not be considered to be causing later problems.” The exceptions were psychotic symptoms, loneliness, and the overall risk of mental health problems in young adulthood, which were still strongly associated with psychotic symptoms in childhood.

“This finding does not undermine the prognostic significance of childhood psychotic symptoms but indicates that merely reducing the occurrence of these symptoms will not improve mental health and functional outcomes in young adulthood,” the researchers wrote. “These early [psychotic] symptoms may, therefore, act as a useful way of identifying children who are at risk for an array of poor outcomes in young adulthood and who may benefit from preventive interventions. However… such interventions would need to be targeted at [family-wide risk] factors rather than the psychotic symptoms themselves.” 

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

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