The association of child abuse and neglect with adult disability in schizophrenia and the prominent role of physical neglect

Alexei Gil, Clarissa S Gama, Danilo Rocha de Jesus, Maria Inês Lobato, Marilene Zimmer, Paulo Belmonte-de-Abreu
Child Abuse & Neglect 2009, 33 (9): 618-24

OBJECTIVE: To assess long-lasting effects of childhood trauma on the functional outcome of adult patients diagnosed with schizophrenia.

METHOD: Ninety-nine stable patients with schizophrenia followed in an outpatient program at a public university hospital in Porto Alegre, southern Brazil, were investigated for childhood traumatic experiences by the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire (CTQ) and for functional impairment by the World Health Organization Disability Assessment Schedule (WHO/DAS). The schizophrenia diagnosis was assessed by ICD-10 and DSM-IV criteria according to the Operational Criteria Checklist for Psychotic Illness (OPCRIT).

RESULTS: Childhood trauma in general was associated with increased disability in adulthood, reflected by impaired Overall Behavior (p=.023) and Global Evaluation (p=.032). Analysis of specific traumatic domains revealed that increased childhood physical neglect was associated with functional impairment in Overall Behavior (p<.000), Social Role Performance (p=.037) and Global Evaluation (p=.014). Higher emotional abuse was associated with impaired Overall Behavior (p=.026), and higher emotional neglect with poor Global Evaluation (p=.047). Additionally, earlier onset of illness was associated with lower level of functioning evidenced by impairment in Overall Behavior (p=.042). Linear regression using WHO/DAS sections (Overall Behavior, Social Role Performance and Global Evaluation) as dependent variables and CTQ subscales indicated that only physical neglect had an effect on adult functionality.

CONCLUSIONS: Childhood trauma was associated with functional and social impairment in adult patients with schizophrenia. Specific types of abuse and neglect, such as physical neglect and emotional abuse and neglect, influenced disability, and the most robust association was physical neglect. Studies involving more patients, with normal controls and additional measurements of biological liability, should be conducted to confirm this association and to increase the understanding of gene-environment relationship in schizophrenia and pathways to disability.

PRACTICE IMPLICATIONS: Further investigation is warranted to clarify the association between childhood trauma and disability in schizophrenia, as well as to develop standardized instruments for the assessment of trauma and earlier detection of risk along with education of patients and families about adequate care, in an effort to reduce the incidence of disability in schizophrenia.

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