Childhood Trauma Increases Risk of Psychotic Experiences

November 28, 2018

Childhood trauma of all types appears to have a causal link with psychotic experiences in early adulthood, according to a study published online in JAMA Psychiatry.

“As around 5% of the population have psychotic experiences at some point in their life, and these often lead to further mental health issues, it is important that we understand more about the role trauma has in increasing this risk,” said researcher Jazz Croft, MSc, a PhD student at the Centre for Academic Mental Health at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom.

Croft and colleagues used longitudinal data to examine the link between childhood trauma, trauma type (such as bullying, emotional neglect, or domestic violence), and trauma timing among 4433 children and adolescents. Study participants underwent clinical interviews at age 18.

Cannabidiol Shows Potential as Psychosis Treatment

Among the 5% of the study population who reported psychotic experiences such as hearing voices or feeling  paranoid, between 25% and 60% would not have experienced them had they not experienced trauma, researchers reported.

The study found larger effect sizes for repeated trauma, multiple types of trauma, and more proximal trauma exposure. The results remained consistent despite socioeconomic status or genetic risk of mental illness.

“The findings support that routine screening for psychotic experiences in children or young people exposed to trauma, particularly those exposed to frequent occurrences, should be considered as a way of preventing later mental health problems,” Croft said. “Understanding how trauma leads to psychotic experiences could lead to the development of more novel treatments for psychosis.”

—Jolynn Tumolo


Croft J, Heron J, Teufel C, et al. Association of trauma type, age of exposure, and frequency in childhood and adolescence with psychotic experiences in early adulthood. JAMA Psychiatry. 2018 November 21;[Epub ahead of print].

Psychotic experiences could be caused by trauma in childhood [press release]. Bristol, United Kingdom: University of Bristol; November 21, 2018