Arts & Sciences School of Medicine

Psychotic experiences in children predict genetic risk for mental disorders

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So much has happened in the world to cause people to think deeper about their mental well-being and resiliency during difficult times.

More than 50% of the population has struggled with a mental health issue at some point in their lives. They can be as disabling as physical conditions and are among the leading causes of disability and mortality in the world. However, we know remarkably little about what causes them, and it is important to identify early signs of mental disorders and respond with preventative measures.

Many have thoughts about how to approach mental health issues, but what if there was a way to catch signs of mental illness early in life?

New research from the lab of Deanna Barch, PhD,  professor and chair of psychological and brain sciences in Arts & Sciences and the Gregory B. Couch Professor of Psychiatry and of radiology at the School of Medicine at Washington University in St. Louis, shows that genetic risk for mental disorders is associated with brain structure and the occurrence of psychotic-like experiences in 9- and 10-year-old children.

“We are still working on understanding the trajectories of psychotic-like experiences in childhood,” said Nicole Karcher, lead author of the study, an instructor in psychiatry at the School of Medicine and a postdoctoral researcher in Barch’s lab.

“Although the current research does not address this, only a subset of individuals with even severe psychotic-like experiences will likely develop a psychotic disorder in adulthood,” Karcher said. “This study is part of a program of research trying to understand the most important predictors of psychotic-like experiences.”

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