[ Back to EurekAlert! ] Public release date: 31-Mar-2009
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Contact: Camilla Palmer
camilla.palmer@iop.kcl.ac.uk
020-784-80483
King's College London

Childhood abuse associated with onset of psychosis in women

Researchers at the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London have published new research which indicates that women with severe mental illness are more likely to have been abused in childhood that the general population. But the same association has not been found in men.

The researchers believe their findings point to differences in the way boys and girls respond to traumatic and upsetting experiences. The paper which is published in the April issue of the British Journal of Psychiatry compared two groups of adults with all the participants were aged between 16 and 64, and lived in either south-east London or Nottingham.

Those in the first group had experienced psychotic symptoms, such as hallucinations or delusions and received treatment for depression, mania or schizophrenia. Those in the second group had no mental health problems, and acted as a control sample. Both groups were asked whether they experienced physical or sexual abuse during their childhood.

Women with psychosis were twice as likely to report either physical or sexual abuse compared to healthy women. But no such association was found in men.

The researchers suggest that one explanation for this is that girls are more likely to 'internalise' difficulties than boys. In other words, girls who are abused may distance themselves from other people, and become overly suspicious of other people's behaviour. This may put them at greater risk of psychotic symptoms in the future, such as paranoid delusions.

In contrast, boys may be more likely to 'act out' following physical abuse and potentially be at greater risk for antisocial behaviour.

The lead author on this paper, Helen Fisher, Researcher in Psychosis at the Institute of Psychiatry at King's said: "These findings do not mean that if a child is abused they will develop psychosis; but women with such disorders are more likely to reveal a background which included childhood abuse.

"These findings point to the need for gender-specific interventions for abused children to prevent later mental health and behavioural problems."

"We also know that there are psychological, biological and genetic factors that may contribute to this condition in women and more attention needs to be given to understanding how adult psychosis develops. Excitingly we have just been awarded a Wellcome Trust grant to repeat this original study on a larger scale to enable us to investigate the factors involved in this link between childhood abuse and psychotic disorders."

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Notes to editors:

The paper entitled: "Gender differences in the association between childhood abuse and psychosis" is published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, 194: 319-325.

The authors were: Fisher H, Morgan C, Dazzan P, Craig TK, Morgan K, Hutchinson G, Jones PB, Doody GA, Pariante C, McGuffin P, Murray RM, Leff J and Fearon P (2009)

For more information, please contact the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London press office on: 020 7848 0483/5378 or email to: camilla.palmer@iop.kcl.ac.uk/louise.pratt@iop.kcl.ac.uk

NB this press release is a supplement to the Royal College of Psychiatrists British Journal of Psychiatry press release that was issued on Thursday 27th March under embargo.

King's College London

King's College London is one of the top 25 universities in the world (Times Higher Education 2008) and the fourth oldest in England. A research-led university based in the heart of London, King's has 19,700 students from more than 150 countries, and 5,400 employees. An investment of over 500 million has been made in the redevelopment of its estate in recent years.

King's has an outstanding reputation for providing world-class teaching and cutting-edge research. In the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise for British universities, 23 departments were ranked in the top quartile of British universities; over half of our academic staff work in departments that are in the top 10 per cent in the UK in their field and can thus be classed as world leading. The College is in the top group of UK universities for research earnings and has an overall annual income of approximately 450 million.

King's has a particularly distinguished reputation in the humanities, law, the sciences (including a wide range of health areas such as psychiatry, medicine and dentistry) and social sciences including international affairs. It has played a major role in many of the advances that have shaped modern life, such as the discovery of the structure of DNA and research that led to the development of radio, television, mobile phones and radar. It is the largest centre for the education of healthcare professionals in Europe; no university has more Medical Research Council Centres.

King's College London and Guy's and St Thomas', King's College Hospital and South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trusts are part of King's Health Partners. King's Health Partners Academic Health Sciences Centre (AHSC) is a pioneering global collaboration between one of the world's leading research-led universities and three of London's most successful NHS Foundation Trusts, including leading teaching hospitals and comprehensive mental health services.

The driving purpose of King's Health Partners is to continually seek and bring about swifter and more effective improvements in health and well-being for patients in London and people everywhere. Combining the best of basic and translational research, clinical excellence and world-class teaching to deliver groundbreaking advances in physical and mental healthcare. For more information, visit :www.kingshealthpartners.org



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