Health

Psychotic traits in young linked to changing schools

Children playing in playground Image copyright PA
Image caption Children who are bullied at school may be more likely to develop psychotic traits

Children who have repeatedly moved schools may be more likely to develop psychotic-like symptoms as young teenagers, a study has found.

Researchers said children that had moved schools three times or more before the age of 12 were 60% more likely to develop at least one psychotic symptom as young teenagers.

Psychotic traits include hallucinations and delusions, and can be a precursor to psychotic disorders.

The study involved 6,448 children.

Scientists led by Prof Swaran Singh, at the University of Warwick, tracked the movements of children by analysing data from a birth cohort study, which began in 1991.

In the cohort, parents filled in questionnaires every year after their child was born, and their children attended annual assessment clinics, including face-to face interviews, psychological and physical tests.

Children were interviewed at 12 years of age to see if they had experienced any psychotic-like traits in the last six months.

Still work to do

Prof Singh said the study filled a gap in linking school mobility and psychotic traits.

He said: "Our study found that the process of moving schools may itself increase the risk of psychotic symptoms, independent of other factors.

"But additionally, being involved in bullying, sometimes as a consequence of repeated school moves, may exacerbate risk for the individual."

Previous work, he said, had focused on the impact of urban environments, marginalisation, exclusion, coming from a broken family and bullying.

He said he wanted to study school mobility after noticing a link between psychotic symptoms and migrant populations.

He said the traits were not linked to children moving because they were adopted, which could signify an unstable background, as the cohort involved only birth parents.

But he added: "There may be something else going on. We do not know what we do not know.

"Where there is light that we are seeing, there are areas of darkness we have not explored."

He said his next move was to assess the children at age 16, adding 16, 17 and 18 were the "usual ages of onset" for psychosis.

Moving schools 'final straw'

Dr Craig Morgan, senior lecturer at the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, said the study was "really quite interesting" and "tied in with a fair amount of research".

But he said it was important to remember 80% of cases where psychotic traits were shown did not lead to psychosis.

Prof Gordon Claridge, at the University of Oxford's department of experimental psychology, said: "One might ask why the target children were bullied.

"They might have been inherently 'stranger' in some way and therefore attracted bullying."

Lucie Russell, director of campaigns at YoungMinds said: "Young people need stability and the process of moving school can be traumatic.

"If you are a young person who is already vulnerable then moving school is often the final straw."

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