Protective factors for early psychotic phenomena among children of mothers with psychosis

Simon James Riches, Louise Arseneault, Raha Bagher-Niakan, Manar Alsultan, Eloise Crush, Helen Fisher

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Background: Early identification of sub-clinical psychotic experiences in at-risk individuals is vital to prevent the development of psychosis, even before prodromal symptoms emerge. A widely-replicated risk factor is having a family member with psychosis. The Environmental Risk (E-Risk) Longitudinal Twin Study has shown that better cognitive functioning, a stimulating family environment, and a cohesive community, are protective against psychotic experiences among children; while engaging in physical activity, social support, and a cohesive community are protective for adolescents. In the current study we investigate whether these factors also protect against the development of sub-clinical psychotic phenomena among children and adolescents in this cohort who are at high-risk of psychosis by having a mother with psychosis.

Methods: Data were utilised from the E-Risk Longitudinal Twin Study, a nationally-representative cohort of 2232 twin children born in England and Wales in 1994-95 followed to age 18. Psychotic phenomena were assessed in private interviews with children at ages 12 and 18, and mothers were interviewed about their own experiences of psychosis when children were aged 10 and 12. Bivariate and multivariate logistic regression analyses explored associations between individual, family, and community-level putative protective factors and absence of age-12 psychotic symptoms and age-18 psychotic experiences in children whose mothers had a diagnosis of a psychosis-spectrum disorder and/or reported psychotic symptoms.

Results: Higher IQ (OR=0.97, 95% CI 0.94-1.00, P=0.036) and living in a more socially cohesive neighborhood (OR=0.88, 95% CI 0.79-0.98, P=0.023) were independently protective against age-12 psychotic symptoms among children of mothers with psychosis. Higher levels of perceived social support were independently protective against age-18 psychotic experiences among children of mothers with psychosis (OR=0.92, 95% CI 0.87-0.98, P=0.006). However, there were no significant interactions between these protective factors and maternal psychosis in relation to an absence of childhood or adolescent psychotic phenomena in the full sample, indicating that protective effects were not specific to this group of high-risk children.

Conclusions: These findings provide preliminary evidence that preventive interventions for early psychotic phenomena could focus on improving cognition, social support, and cohesiveness of the local community. Given scarce resources these might usefully be targeted at high-risk children.
Original languageEnglish
Article number750
JournalFrontiers in Psychiatry
Issue numberJAN
Early online date14 Jan 2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 14 Jan 2019


  • Child and adolescent mental health
  • Early intervention
  • Familial psychosis
  • Maternal psychosis
  • Prevention
  • Protective factors
  • Psychotic experiences
  • Resilience


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