Background Childhood adversity has been associated with onset of psychosis in adulthood but these studies have used only general definitions of this environmental risk indicator. Therefore, we sought to explore the prevalence of more specific adverse childhood experiences amongst those with and without psychotic disorders using detailed assessments in a large epidemiological case-control sample (AESOP).
Method Data were collected on 182 first-presentation psychosis cases and 246 geographically matched controls in two UK centres. Information relating to the timing and frequency of exposure to different types of childhood adversity (neglect, antipathy, physical and sexual abuse, local authority care, disrupted living arrangements and lack of supportive figure) was obtained using the Childhood Experience of Care and Abuse Questionnaire.
Results Psychosis cases were three times more likely to report severe physical abuse from the mother that commenced prior to 12 years of age, even after adjustment for other significant forms of adversity and demographic confounders. A non-significant trend was also evident for greater prevalence of reported severe maternal antipathy amongst those with psychosis. Associations with maternal neglect and childhood sexual abuse disappeared after adjusting for maternal physical abuse and antipathy. Paternal maltreatment and other forms of adversity were not associated with psychosis nor was there evidence of a dose–response effect.
Conclusions These findings suggest that only specific adverse childhood experiences are associated with psychotic disorders and only in a minority of cases. If replicated, this greater precision will ensure that research into the mechanisms underlying the pathway from childhood adversity to psychosis is more fruitful.