Parents often have the tendency to dismiss sibling aggression as normal behavior, with some even considering it a useful tool to teach children how to manage conflicts. As it turns out, such behavior may have serious psychological repercussions. It had been previously shown that sibling bullying was a potential risk factor for depression and self-harm during adulthood; however, it was not clear if such an association extended to serious mental illnesses like psychosis.
Researchers from the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom recently analyzed bullying behavior in middle childhood (age: 12 years) and the associated risk of developing psychotic illnesses in early adulthood (age: 18 years). Findings of the study, published in the journal Psychological Medicine in February 2018, showed that involvement in sibling bullying (either as a bully or victim) a number of times a week/month increased the risk of developing psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder by 2-3 times, in comparison to other children.
The risk of developing psychotic illnesses was four times higher in cases where children were bullied by their siblings (at home) and their peers (in school). Overall it was found that a higher frequency of children’s involvement in sibling bullying (as bullies, victims or both) correspondingly increased their likelihood of developing symptoms of psychosis. However, the risk was highest for children who were victims, and those who were both bullies and victims.
The 12-year-old participants were questioned about the frequency of sibling bullying, which included instances such as offensive and unkind comments, physical aggression or lying about siblings. Of the total 3,600 children surveyed, 664 were sibling bullying targets, 486 were bullying perpetrators to their siblings, and 771 were both bullies and victims. 55 adolescents developed a psychotic disorder when they were 18 years old.
Association between trauma from sibling bullying and psychosis largely disregarded
Till recently, the association between trauma from sibling aggression and serious mental illnesses such as psychosis had been largely disregarded. According to the researchers, children and their siblings spend a significant time with each other at home. Instances of bullying and exclusion could lead to “social defeat and self-blame and serious mental health disorder,” as was demonstrated for the first time by the study’s results.
Even after controlling for several pre-existing mental health and social factors, it could not be overlooked that instead of being a cause, discord in social relationships was a potential early indicator of developing serious mental illnesses. Accordingly, it was necessary to make parents and health professionals aware about the possible long-term psychological outcomes of sibling bullying.
A large body of previous research has suggested that childhood trauma is a risk factor for psychotic disorders. Childhood trauma increases the sensitivity to stress. A previous study found that adolescents who reported at least one psychotic symptom had a significantly higher likelihood of having been exposed to childhood physical abuse, domestic violence, and involvement in bullying (as a bully or victim). The risk of psychotic symptoms was found to be greater in children subject to both physical abuse from adults and bullying by peers.
Dealing with schizoaffective disorder
Schizoaffective disorder is a serious mental illness characterized predominantly by symptoms of schizophrenia (hallucinations, delusions) and symptoms of a mood disorder (mania, depression). Due to the presence of both types of symptoms, it may become difficult to diagnose schizoaffective disorder. It is estimated that 0.3 percent of the American population suffers from this illness. Although men and women are equally vulnerable, the onset of schizoaffective disorder takes place earlier among men.
Medication and psychotherapy are the two most effective treatments for schizoaffective disorders. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is used to channelize negative thought processes and behaviors into positive and healthy outcomes. For patients with schizoaffective disorder who have psychotic symptoms, basic CBT is supplemented with additional cognitive therapy. This therapy, known as CBT for psychosis (CBTp), helps affected individuals with coping strategies for symptoms which are not responding to medication.
Teen schizoaffective disorder can be treated with early interventions. Sovereign Health of Rancho San Diego specializes in the treatment of psychotic disorders in adolescents and teens. Call our 24/7 helpline or chat online with our representatives to learn more about our specialized teen schizoaffective disorder treatment centers for teens.