Traumatic sexual incidents may precipitate mental health problems years after the assault.
New research from the University of Ulster’s Psychological Research Institute suggests that sexual trauma can play a role in the development of psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia, even up to 10 years after the original event.
Professor Mark Shevlin from the university’s school of psychology and Professor Ask Elkit from the University of Southern Denmark worked together to examine the data gathered from the Danish Civil Registration System (CRS), a database of official information on Danish citizens that dates back to 1968.
Shevlin says the CRS has never been studied for this type of research before. “Trauma research is fraught with methological difficulties. The use of the CRS has allowed us to conduct case control prospective studies in a very efficient way. Our most recent study identified an association between rape and subsequent diagnosis of a psychotic disorder over a 10-year period. This study would have been virtually impossible without the use of CRS data.”
A case control study is a type of epidemiological study in which researchers use a large database to compare persons with a condition to similar people without that condition.
“The CRS provides researchers with information on a large number of variables related to physical and psychological health, education, employment, income, and housing. Collaborating with Ulster has provided us with the skills and expertise to link separate databases and conduct statistical analyses to help answer important psychological questions,” said Professor Elkit.
“For example, this has allowed us to identify social factors that increase the risk of rape or victimization, and estimate the costs in terms of physical and psychological problems.”
In addition to the risk of development of psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia, victims of sexual trauma may be even further disposed to other psychological problems, as victims often have a propensity to move away from the area in which the incident took place. Moving away from the area often removes them from family and other social support networks.
These research findings may be helpful in providing insights for clinicians in evaluating patients with schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders for a history of sexual trauma, and in developing targeted interventions and therapies.
Elkit and Shevlin plan to analyze the CRS data further to model multiple traumatic childhood experiences and examine the effect on possible development of other psychological and behavioral problems.
Source: University of Ulster, Schizophrenia Bulletin