Negative environmental and socio-economic factors impact a child’s risk of psychotic-like experiences

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New research has evaluated how negative environmental and socio-economic factors increase a child’s risk of developing psychotic-like experiences that may later become precursors to a schizophrenia diagnosis.

The study, published in Frontiers in Psychiatry, was led by Abhishek Saxena, a graduate student in the department of Psychology at the University of Rochester.  

Researchers looked at data collected from 7,979 children enrolled in the nation-wide Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study. The study followed children starting at ages nine and 10 and includes information on child psychotic-like experiences (PLE), as well as demographic, social, and geolocation data. By using the ABCD dataset, they were able to explore the associations between urbanicity, candidate urban-related exposures, and later PLE. In addition, they were able to test the hypothesis that urban-related exposures mediate the urbanicity-PLE association.

The study found that the more urban of an environment a child lived in – proximity to roads, houses with lead paint risks, families in poverty, and income disparity – the greater number of psychotic like experiences they had over a year’s time.

“It is disconcerting that the association between these exposures and psychotic-like experiences are already present in late childhood,” said David Dodell-Feder, PhD, assistant professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of Rochester and study lead author in a statement. “The fact that the impact of these exposures may occur as early as pre-adolescence highlights the importance of early prevention.”

The authors stressed the importance of considering the potential impact of intervening earlier by taking a public health-oriented approach. This approach would include focusing on preventing the adverse exposures – like poverty and pollution – as opposed to focusing on the disorders. Interventions, according to the study, could include universal access to primary care, debt relief, or relocation to sustainable and green housing.