Trauma and psychosis can each derail a person’s daily life by causing mental and physical disturbances which significantly disrupt even basic day-to-day functioning and skills. When experienced together, they can wreak emotional and mental havoc if left untreated.
When the onset of a psychotic disorder like schizophrenia happens to occur after a traumatic event, it can be tempting to blame the development of the former on the occurrence of the latter. Causality is comforting, in a way—being able to answer the larger question of why your loved one is living with the symptoms and challenges they currently face is somehow less daunting than having no answer at all.
What causes Schizophrenia?
Scientists identify a variety of causes and risk factors for schizophrenia. Research shows the disorder is brought on by a combination of neurological, genetic and environmental factors, including life experience. Schizophrenics have an imbalance of the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin in their brains, which is why they are often prescribed antipsychotic drugs. There may also be a genetic component; the risk factor of one person developing schizophrenia goes up if other close blood relations have been diagnosed with it.
Other factors which play a part in the development of schizophrenia include psychoactive drugs, such as methamphetamines or LSD. These drugs can cause brain damage, psychotic episodes, or trigger a schizophrenic onset.
Childhood factors may also affect onset and development. Fetuses exposed to malnutrition or viral infections in the womb may have a higher chance of getting schizophrenia. And childhood trauma can significantly change how children’s brains and thought processes develop and affect their adult lives.
Can trauma cause Schizophrenia?
While the jury is still out on whether trauma directly causes schizophrenia, according to research conducted by the University of Liverpool, children who experienced trauma before the age of 16 were about three times more likely to become psychotic in adulthood than those who were randomly selected. The more severe the trauma, the greater the likelihood of developing illness in later life. They even found indications that the type of trauma experienced may determine what specific psychotic symptoms will manifest themselves later on.
It is also certainly true that trauma which occurs after the onset of schizophrenia can exacerbate psychotic symptoms—especially if it leads to the development of a co-occurring trauma disorder, such as PTSD. Separately, these conditions can pose serious challenges to a person’s ability to live a “normal” life—together, they can become overwhelming and debilitating without proper care and support.