Negative and positive childhood experiences across developmental periods in psychiatric patients with different diagnoses - an explorative study

Evangelia Saleptsi, Dana Bichescu, Brigitte Rockstroh, Frank Neuner, Margarete Schauer, Karl Studer, Klaus Hoffmann, Thomas Elbert
BMC Psychiatry 2004, 4: 40

BACKGROUND: A high frequency of childhood abuse has often been reported in adult psychiatric patients. The present survey explores the relationship between psychiatric diagnoses and positive and negative life events during childhood and adulthood in psychiatric samples.

METHODS: A total of 192 patients with diagnoses of alcohol-related disorders (n = 45), schizophrenic disorders (n = 52), affective disorders (n = 54), and personality disorders (n = 41) completed a 42-item self-rating scale (Traumatic Antecedents Questionnaire, TAQ). The TAQ assesses personal positive experiences (competence and safety) and negative experiences (neglect, separation, secrets, emotional, physical and sexual abuse, trauma witnessing, other traumas, and alcohol and drugs abuse) during four developmental periods, beginning from early childhood to adulthood. Patients were recruited from four Psychiatric hospitals in Germany, Switzerland, and Romania; 63 subjects without any history of mental illness served as controls.

RESULTS: The amount of positive experiences did not differ significantly among groups, except for safety scores that were lower in patients with personality disorders as compared to the other groups. On the other side, negative experiences appeared more frequently in patients than in controls. Emotional neglect and abuse were reported in patients more frequently than physical and sexual abuse, with negative experiences encountered more often in late childhood and adolescence than in early childhood. The patients with alcohol-related and personality disorders reported more negative events than the ones with schizophrenic and affective disorders.

CONCLUSIONS: The present findings add evidence to the relationship between retrospectively reported childhood experiences and psychiatric diagnoses, and emphasize the fact that a) emotional neglect and abuse are the most prominent negative experiences, b) adolescence is a more 'sensitive' period for negative experiences as compared to early childhood, and c) a high amount of reported emotional and physical abuse occurs in patients with alcohol-related and personality disorders respectively.


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