A new study in the journal Social psychiatry and psychiatric epidemiology explores the associations between adult victimization, childhood victimization, and psychotic experiences.
The authors, including researchers from the Maastricht University Medical Center in the Netherlands, the Netherlands Institute of Mental Health and Addiction, King’s College, and the University Medical Center Utrecht, demonstrated that psychotic experiences and childhood victimization were associated with an increased risk of adult victimization. Further, they found that the presence of adult and/or childhood victimization increased the risk of later experiences of psychotic symptoms.
Childhood trauma has been associated with negative psychological consequences, including severity of hallucinations, receiving a bipolar diagnosis, and psychosis. Moreover, the researchers of this study cite previous research demonstrating that people with psychosis are more likely to be victims of violence than to be perpetrators.
They add that while research has found associations between victimization, most research has focused on informing the hypothesis that childhood victimization is a risk factor for the development of psychosis. But there has also been evidence showing that having psychotic experiences increases the likelihood of childhood victimization. Furthermore, psychosis is also associated with adult victimization, but no studies have examined if psychosis predicts adult victimization.
The present study aimed to shed light on these associations and hypothesized interactions. The authors hypothesized that psychotic experiences increase the risk of incident adult victimization and that adult victimization increases the risk of incident psychotic experiences and that childhood victimization increases the risk of both adult victimization and psychotic experiences. The bidirectional association between psychotic experiences and adult victimization would increase when childhood victimization was present.
Baseline, 3-year, and 6-year follow-up data of 6646 participants from the Netherlands Mental Health Survey and Incidence Study was utilized. The main variables of interest were psychotic experiences, childhood victimization, and adult victimization. Psychotic experiences were measured with an instrument which queried for lifetime delusional and hallucinatory experiences. Incidence of childhood victimization was determined by asking participants if they had ever experienced emotional abuse, psychological abuse, or physical abuse before the age of 16.
Information on adult victimization was collected by asking participants if they had experienced lifetime violent and psychological victimization by an intimate partner, or lifetime sexual victimization by any person since the age of 16 by providing participants with a booklet which listed and numbered the types of victimization. Participants provided the interviewer with the numbers of the type of victimization that they had experienced. This was done to increase the likelihood that adult victimization would be reported.
- Of the 6359 participants, 340 reported psychotic experiences
- More women than men reported having psychotic experiences
- Those who had psychotic experiences had a higher prevalence of childhood victimization, adult victimization, lifetime substance use disorders and arrest
- All forms of baseline adult victimization were associated with psychotic experiences
- Childhood victimization was associated with incident psychotic experiences
Isolated psychotic experiences (PE) and isolated childhood victimization were associated with increased risk of adult victimization, but the co-occurrence of psychotic experiences and childhood victimization did not increase the risk of adult victimization. Psychotic experiences increased the risk of adult victimization and childhood victimization increased the risk of adult victimization in those without psychotic experiences. Overall, this suggests that psychotic experiences and childhood victimization do not act synergistically to increase the risk of adult victimization.
“. . any excess risk for adult victimization would already have been consumed after isolated exposure to either PE (psychotic experiences) or childhood victimization,” the researchers explain.
Also of interest, in those participants who had experienced childhood victimization, psychotic experiences were associated with incident sexual victimization, but researchers were not able to examine this interaction.
“The present results showed evidence for the hypothesized bidirectional association between adult victimisation and PE. However, the hypothesis of a positive interaction between childhood victimisation and both PE and adult victimisation was falsified”
Previous research suggests that individuals who experience victimization may see an increase in psychosis risk and that this risk may result from the development of a worrying thinking style, negative beliefs about the self, and reasoning biases (e.g. jumping to conclusions). Overall, childhood victimization increases the risk for psychotic experiences directly and through adult victimization. When there is no presence of childhood victimization, psychosis and adult victimization have a bidirectional relationship with each other.
Honings, S., Drukker, M., ten Have, M., de Graaf, R., Van Dorsselaer, S., & van Os, J. (2017). The interplay of psychosis and victimisation across the life course: a prospective study in the general population. Social psychiatry and psychiatric epidemiology, 1-12. (Link)