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Understanding childhood psychosis

Research awardFellows Award programme

Funding period2014 - 2017

InstitutionKing’s College London

Location United Kingdom


Dr Helen Fisher is exploring the factors that affect the chances of children developing psychosis – to help identify and support young people at risk.

The project

1 in 10 children will experience psychotic symptoms, such as hearing voices or seeing things that others don't. 

A number of major studies have explored this area, and found that if these symptoms continue into adolescence, it can be a sign of future schizophrenia. And if young people have been bullied, abused or experienced other traumatic events, the chance of developing the condition increases.

But understanding of exactly how trauma can lead to psychosis remains limited – so Helen and her team are analysing data  collected over many years, to pinpoint potential clues.

The process

Helen's team are looking at data from existing studies that describe exposure to traumatic events, alongside information on potential psychological and social mechanisms and the nature of psychotic symptoms across childhood.

And they’re also studying DNA samples that were taken during the studies, to explore whether changes in gene behaviour after traumatic experiences could provide clues to the causes of psychosis.

Sophie has experienced psychotic symptoms since a young age. Helen's research is providing her with hope that she'll learn more about what caused these, and what can be done to prevent her symptoms getting worse as she grows up. 

The potential

By looking at psychological, social and biological data about childhood trauma, this project will deliver a new perspective on the development of psychotic symptoms.

In turn, this could enable us both to identify young children at risk of psychosis, and to provide treatments that prevent psychosis from developing.

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