Presented at the International Early Psychosis Association (IEPA) meeting in Milan, Italy, in October 2016, the Danish High Risk and Resilience Study — VIA 7 — included 522 children who were seven at the start of the study.
Of the children, 202 were born to at least one person diagnosed with schizophrenia (located using Danish registries), while 120 of them were born to least one parent diagnosed with bipolar disorder. The remaining 200 children were born to parents without any of these diagnoses.
The results show children born to parents with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder score higher than the other children using a tool called the child behavior checklist (CBCL). This is a widely used questionnaire with more than 100 questions given to parents and teachers that describes behavioral problems or signs of possible illness, the researchers said, explaining a higher score represents more problems.
Mean scores for children in the schizophrenia group were 27.2, the bipolar group 23.5, and control group 17.1.
There were also marked differences between the three groups concerning psychopathology, neurocognition, motor functioning and their home environment, according to the study’s findings.
Children born to parents with schizophrenia, and to a minor extent also bipolar disorder, were found to have increased risk for problems such as anxiety, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and stress/adjustment disorder, and were also more likely to display neurocognitive problems or delays. They also were more likely to grow up in families with a lower social status and a higher risk of adverse life events, according to the researchers.
“Results from this first assessment in the VIA 7 study indicate that many children and families have unmet needs and problems,” said Dr. Anne Thorup, an assistant professor in the Institute of Clinical Medicine, Faculty Health and Medical Science at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark.
She noted the researchers plan to follow the children until age 11, conducting a new assessment before puberty.
“We do not know if the impaired children will catch up in neurocognitive areas or if their mental problems will be in remission, but since social aspects and environmental factors contribute significantly to child development — and they were quite marked already at age seven years — we are expecting similar or even worse results could be seen at age 11 years,” she said.
“At the same time, we are developing an early, integrated, specialized and family based intervention, called VIA family, to prevent or slow development of severe mental illness in individuals born to parents with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.”