Poor Social Functioning in Childhood Linked to Schizophrenia Risk

schizophreniaUniversity of Maryland researchers have found that poor social functioning in childhood predicts an increased risk of developing schizophrenia.[1] In fact, poor social functioning, before the onset of schizophrenia symptoms, as rated by teachers on a psychometric scale, have set apart children who later developed the disease from those who did not.1

Schizophrenia is a rare, yet serious, psychiatric disorder that usually begins in late adolescence and is characterized by hallucinations, delusions, paranoia, cognitive impairment, social withdrawal, self-neglect, and loss of motivation and initiative.1

Social functioning was able to predict the risk for schizophrenia independently of genetic risk.1 According to lead researcher Jason Schiffman, Ph.D., the 48-year study suggests that children who are at risk of schizophrenia demonstrate interpersonal deficits early in life, with teachers able to provide valuable information regarding their social functioning.1

Schiffman and colleagues conducted a study that involved 244 participants.1 Thirty-three were diagnosed with schizophrenia, 78 with other psychiatric disorders, and 133 with no mental health disorders between the ages of 31 and 33 years.1

Between the ages of 10 and 13, participants with schizophrenia had the worst social functioning scores, with an average of 17.5 out of a possible 25.0.1 Participants with other psychiatric disorders scored 20.7 on average, and those without mental health problems scored 21.7 on average.1

Many of the participants who later developed schizophrenia were originally at high risk of developing it, as they often had a parent hospitalized with the condition or a predisposed genetic risk.1 However, this did not change the strength of the relationship between early social functioning and later development of the disorder. The link was also not affected by gender or socioeconomic status.1

The researchers stated that social functioning predicts the risk of schizophrenia in two ways.1 First, it offers an observable marker of the illness that is present years before the onset of the disease, and second, it contributes to chronic stress that intensifies the risk of the disease.1

[1] Pedersen, T. (2013). Poor Social Functioning in Childhood Linked to Greater Schizophrenia Risk. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 25, 2013, from http://psychcentral.com/news/2013/11/23/poor-social-functioning-in-childhood-linked-to-greater-schizophrenia-risk/62423.html

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