Trauma and schizophrenia: what is the link?

Trauma, especially in childhood, can increase the risk of psychotic symptoms and the development of schizophrenia.

Trauma can sometimes cause physical changes in the body, which can increase the risk of developing mental health problems, including schizophrenia.

Schizophrenia can happen due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors. In people predisposed to schizophrenia, traumatic life events can trigger the disease.

This article examines the link between trauma and schizophrenia, other mental health problems that trauma can cause, and when to seek professional help.

Research suggests that changes in the nervous system and the brain occur after trauma. Oxidative stress – the excess production of reactive oxygen species relative to the body’s ability to counter their harmful effects – can lead to inflammation and an inability to control emotional responses, which can put a person at risk mental health and may promote the development of schizophrenia.

A combination of genetic and environmental factors, such as an unsafe environment or living in poverty, can give rise to schizophrenia. If a person has a genetic predisposition to schizophrenia, trauma can trigger it.

childhood trauma May affect how the body reacts to the neurotransmitter dopamine, which can lead to the development of psychotic symptoms.

Learn more about schizophrenia and dopamine.

To research suggests that schizophrenia is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors, which can cause abnormal brain development.

In people with these risk factors, very stressful life events, trauma, abuse, or neglect can trigger the disease.

In a meta-analysis of studies, researchers found that negative childhood experiences significantly increased the risk of developing psychosis and schizophrenia.

Although childhood trauma can lead to schizophrenia, symptoms may not appear until adulthood.

Schizophrenia can occur at any age, but it usually occurs between the late teens and early 30s and is unusual in people under the age of 12.

Learn more about trauma.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric condition that can occur after people have experienced trauma, such as physical or sexual assault, car accident, or natural disaster. Symptoms of PTSD include:

  • intrusive memories
  • Withdrawal
  • hypervigilance

A 2018 review notes that symptoms of PTSD may overlap with those of schizophrenia. Both conditions can cause:

  • hallucinations
  • social isolation
  • dissociative symptoms, such as feeling detached or having memory problems

The review concluded that PTSD appears to be more prevalent in people with schizophrenia than in the general population, despite similar levels of exposure to trauma.

It may therefore be that people with schizophrenia are more vulnerable to trauma. However, the research does not rule out the possibility that people with PTSD are more likely to have schizophrenia.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, factors that can contribute to schizophrenia include:

  • Genetic: The risk of developing schizophrenia is more than six times higher in those who have a parent or sibling with the disease.
  • Environmental factors: A poor diet or exposure to viruses before birth increases the risk of developing schizophrenia. Autoimmune diseases can also lead people to develop psychosis.
  • Brain Chemistry: Certain neurotransmitters, called dopamine and glutamate, may play a role in schizophrenia.
  • Substance use: Using mind-altering drugs, such as cannabis, during adolescence or early adulthood can increase the risk of schizophrenia.

Can trauma cause other types of mental illness?

Trauma and abuse as a child or as an adult can be a risk factor to develop other mental health problems, including:

They can also put a person at higher risk of suicide.

Early diagnosis and treatment of schizophrenia play a important role in recovery. Anyone who notices symptoms of psychosis or schizophrenia should contact a doctor as soon as possible.

Symptoms of schizophrenia include:

  • hallucinations
  • delusions, in which a person may hold irrational and false beliefs
  • unusual or illogical thought patterns, such as disorganized thoughts and speech
  • movement disorder, in which a person has abnormal or repetitive movements
  • loss of motivation or interest in usual activities
  • social withdrawal
  • difficulty expressing emotions
  • speak in a monotonous voice
  • low battery
  • difficulty making decisions
  • difficulty using learned information
  • concentration problems

If people have suffered trauma and suffered a physical injury, they should contact a doctor or go to a hospital immediately. They might also need to contact the police.

If trauma is affecting a person’s mental health, a mental health professional can help by working with them to create an effective treatment plan.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) provides a national hotline available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, every day of the year, to provide mental health services. If people are in immediate danger, they can call 911 or their local emergency number.

Research suggests that there is a strong link between trauma and psychosis. Childhood trauma can increase the risk of schizophrenia. In adults, a high frequency of adverse life events can also contribute to psychosis.

Treatments can help manage the symptoms of schizophrenia, and people with the disease can maintain a good quality of life. The faster people seek professional help after experiencing trauma, the sooner they can take action to feel better and protect their mental health.

Trauma can cause changes in the body and affect neurotransmitters in the brain, increasing the risk of psychotic symptoms or schizophrenia.

Childhood trauma can trigger schizophrenia in people who are susceptible to it, and people can experience symptoms in their late teens to early 30s.

Trauma can also contribute to other mental health issues. PTSD can cause symptoms similar to schizophrenia and can affect mood and cognition.

If people have a history of trauma and show symptoms of schizophrenia or other mental health issues, they should speak to a medical professional as soon as possible.

Early diagnosis is an important part of recovery, and treatments can help manage symptoms.

About Michael Bill

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