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The association between childhood adversities and subsequent first onset of psychotic experiences: a cross-national analysis of 23 998 respondents from 17 countries

  • J. J. McGrath (a1), K. A. McLaughlin (a2), S. Saha (a1), S. Aguilar-Gaxiola (a3), A. Al-Hamzawi (a4), J. Alonso (a5) (a6) (a7), R. Bruffaerts (a8), G. de Girolamo (a9), P. de Jonge (a10), O. Esan (a11), S. Florescu (a12), O. Gureje (a13), J. M. Haro (a14), C. Hu (a15), E. G. Karam (a16) (a17) (a18), V. Kovess-Masfety (a19), S. Lee (a20), J. P. Lepine (a21), C. C. W. Lim (a22) (a23), M. E. Medina-Mora (a24), Z. Mneimneh (a25) (a26), B. E. Pennell (a25), M. Piazza (a27) (a28), J. Posada-Villa (a29), N. Sampson (a30), M. C. Viana (a31), M. Xavier (a32), E. J. Bromet (a33), K. S. Kendler (a34) and R. C. Kessler (a30)...

Although there is robust evidence linking childhood adversities (CAs) and an increased risk for psychotic experiences (PEs), little is known about whether these associations vary across the life-course and whether mental disorders that emerge prior to PEs explain these associations.


We assessed CAs, PEs and DSM-IV mental disorders in 23 998 adults in the WHO World Mental Health Surveys. Discrete-time survival analysis was used to investigate the associations between CAs and PEs, and the influence of mental disorders on these associations using multivariate logistic models.


Exposure to CAs was common, and those who experienced any CAs had increased odds of later PEs [odds ratio (OR) 2.3, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.9–2.6]. CAs reflecting maladaptive family functioning (MFF), including abuse, neglect, and parent maladjustment, exhibited the strongest associations with PE onset in all life-course stages. Sexual abuse exhibited a strong association with PE onset during childhood (OR 8.5, 95% CI 3.6–20.2), whereas Other CA types were associated with PE onset in adolescence. Associations of other CAs with PEs disappeared in adolescence after adjustment for prior-onset mental disorders. The population attributable risk proportion (PARP) for PEs associated with all CAs was 31% (24% for MFF).


Exposure to CAs is associated with PE onset throughout the life-course, although sexual abuse is most strongly associated with childhood-onset PEs. The presence of mental disorders prior to the onset of PEs does not fully explain these associations. The large PARPs suggest that preventing CAs could lead to a meaningful reduction in PEs in the population.

Corresponding author
*Address for correspondence: Professor J. McGrath, Queensland Brain Institute, The University of Queensland, St Lucia, Queensland, Australia. (Email:
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† The World Mental Health Survey Collaborators are listed in the Appendix.
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