King’s College London issued the following news release:
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
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
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
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
“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
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)