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Using discordant twin methods to investigate an environmentally mediated pathway between social support and the reduced likelihood of adolescent psychotic experiences

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
JournalPsychological Medicine
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 16 Jul 2019

King's Authors

Abstract

Background: Social support has been shown to be associated with a reduced likelihood of developing psychotic experiences in the general population and even amongst those at high risk due to exposure to multiple forms of victimisation (poly-victimised). However, it is unclear whether this association is merely due to the confounding effects of shared environmental and genetic influences, or reverse causality. Therefore, we investigated whether social support has a unique environmentally mediated effect on adolescent psychotic experiences after accounting for familial factors, including genetic factors, and also prior psychopathology.

Methods: Participants were from the Environmental Risk (E-Risk) Longitudinal Twin Study, a nationally-representative cohort of 2,232 UK-born twins. Adolescents were interviewed at age 18 about psychotic experiences and victimisation exposure since age 12, and their perceptions of social support. Prior childhood mental health problems and psychotic symptoms were assessed at age 12. The discordant twin method was used to disentangle the relative family-wide and unique-environmental effects of social support on psychotic experiences in the general population and among poly-victimised adolescents.

Results: Perceived social support, particularly from friends, was found to have a unique environmentally mediated buffering effect on adolescent psychotic experiences in the whole sample and in the high-risk poly-victimised group.

Conclusions: The protective effects of social support on adolescent psychotic experiences cannot be accounted for by shared environmental or genetic factors, nor by earlier psychopathology. Our findings suggest that early intervention programmes focused on increasing perceptions of social support have the potential to prevent the emergence of psychotic experiences amongst adolescents.

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