There may be a link between trauma and schizophrenia. Trauma, particularly in childhood, may increase the risk of psychosis symptoms and schizophrenia in those who are genetically susceptible.

Trauma may sometimes cause physical changes in the body, which may increase a person’s risk of developing mental health conditions, including schizophrenia.

Schizophrenia can result from a combination of genetic and environmental factors. In people who are susceptible to schizophrenia, traumatic life events may trigger the condition.

This article looks at the link between trauma and schizophrenia, other mental health conditions that trauma may cause, and when to seek professional help.

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Research suggests that changes in the nervous system and brain occur after trauma. Oxidative stress — the excess production of reactive oxygen species relative to the body’s ability to counteract their harmful effects — may lead to inflammation and an inability to regulate emotional responses. This can put a person at risk for mental health conditions and may promote the development of schizophrenia.

A combination of genetic and environmental factors, such as dangerous surroundings or living in poverty, can give rise to schizophrenia. If a person has a genetic predisposition to schizophrenia, trauma may trigger it.

Trauma during childhood may affect the body’s response to the neurotransmitter dopamine, leading to the development of psychosis symptoms.

Learn more about schizophrenia and dopamine.

Research suggests that schizophrenia occurs due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors, which can cause atypical development in the brain.

In people with these risk factors, childhood trauma may trigger the condition. However, symptoms may not appear until adulthood.

Schizophrenia can happen at any age, but it usually occurs between the late teens and early 30s. It is unusual in people under the age of 12 years.

What kind of trauma can cause schizophrenia?

The most common type of childhood trauma in people living with schizophrenia is emotional neglect, though physical abuse or neglect and sexual abuse are also risk factors.

Can trauma cause psychosis?

In a 2019 review of studies, researchers found that negative childhood experiences significantly increased the risk of developing psychosis and schizophrenia.

Learn more about trauma.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that can happen after people have experienced trauma, such as physical or sexual assault, a vehicle accident, or a natural disaster. The symptoms of PTSD include:

  • intrusive memories
  • withdrawal
  • hypervigilance

The authors of a 2018 review note that the symptoms of PTSD may overlap with those of schizophrenia. Both conditions can cause:

  • hallucinations
  • social isolation
  • dissociative symptoms such as feelings of detachment and memory problems

The review authors concluded that PTSD appears to be more prevalent among people with schizophrenia than in the general population, despite similar levels of exposure to trauma.

It is possible that people with schizophrenia have an increased vulnerability to trauma. However, the research does not rule out the possibility that people with PTSD are more susceptible to schizophrenia.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, factors that may contribute to schizophrenia include:

  • Genetics: People who have a parent or sibling with schizophrenia have a more than six times greater chance of developing it.
  • Environmental factors: Inadequate nutrition and exposure to viruses before birth can increase a person’s chance of developing schizophrenia. Autoimmune diseases may also lead to the development of psychosis.
  • Brain chemistry: Certain neurotransmitters, called dopamine and glutamate, may play a role in schizophrenia.
  • Substance use: The use of mind-altering drugs such as cannabis during adolescence or early adulthood may increase a person’s chance of developing schizophrenia.

Can trauma cause other types of mental illness?

Trauma and abuse in childhood or adulthood can be a risk factor for developing other mental health conditions, including:

These conditions can also increase a person’s risk of suicide.

Early diagnosis and treatment of schizophrenia play an important role in recovery. Anyone who notices any symptoms of psychosis or schizophrenia should contact a doctor as soon as possible.

The symptoms of schizophrenia include:

  • hallucinations
  • delusions, which are irrational, false beliefs
  • unusual or illogical thinking patterns, such as disorganized thoughts and speech
  • movement disorders, in which a person has unusual or repetitive movements
  • loss of motivation or interest in typical activities
  • social withdrawal
  • difficulty expressing emotions
  • monotone speech
  • low energy
  • difficulty making decisions
  • difficulty using learned information
  • trouble concentrating

If people have experienced trauma and sustained a physical injury, they need to contact a doctor or go to a hospital right away. They might also need to contact the police.

If trauma affects a person’s mental health, they should seek the help of a mental health professional, who can work with them to create an effective treatment plan.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration provides a national helpline that is available 24/7 every day of the year to provide mental health services. If people are in immediate danger, they can call 911 or their local emergency number.

Research suggests there is a strong link between trauma and psychosis. Childhood trauma may increase the risk of schizophrenia. In adults, experiencing many adverse life events may also contribute to psychosis.

Treatments can help people manage the symptoms of schizophrenia and maintain a good quality of life. The sooner people seek professional help after experiencing trauma, the sooner they can take steps to feel better and protect their mental health.

Trauma may cause changes in the body and affect neurotransmitters in the brain, increasing the risk of psychotic symptoms or schizophrenia.

Childhood trauma may trigger schizophrenia in people susceptible to it, and people may experience symptoms between their late teens and their early 30s.

Trauma can also contribute to other mental health conditions. PTSD can cause similar symptoms to schizophrenia and may affect mood and thinking ability.

If people have a history of trauma and are experiencing symptoms of schizophrenia or other mental health conditions, they should speak with a healthcare professional as soon as possible.

Early diagnosis is an important part of recovery, and treatments can help people manage the symptoms.