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Multiple school moves linked to psychosis risk

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Children who frequently move schools may be at greater risk of psychosis later in life, according to new research.

School mobility during childhood increases the risk of developing psychotic-like symptoms in early adolescence by up to 60%, suggests a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

Children taking part in the study were interviewed at the age of 12 to look for the presence of psychotic-like symptoms including hallucinations, delusions and thought interference in the previous six months.

The researchers found that the children who had moved school three or more times were 60% more likely to show at least one definite psychotic symptom.

It is suggested by the authors that moving schools often may lead to feelings of low self-esteem and a sense of social defeat.

They also believe there may be physiological consequences arising from the feeling of being excluded from the majority, which could result in sensitisation of the mesolimbic dopamine system and that would raise the risk of psychotic-like symptoms in vulnerable individuals.

There is a strong association between the experience of psychotic-like symptoms at a young age and mental health problems in adulthood, including psychotic disorders and suicide.

Study leader Professor Swaran Singh said youngsters can find moving schools to be a very stressful experience.

Professor Swaran Singh

Professor Swaran Singh

“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.”

Dr Cath Winsper, senior research fellow at Warwick Medical School and part of the study group, said school mobility should certainly be part of the consideration when young people with psychotic disorders are clinically assessed.

“It should be explored as a matter of course as the impact can be both serious and potentially long lasting. Schools should develop strategies to help these students to establish themselves in their new environment,” she added.


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