Psychosis (young people)

Childhood experiences before psychosis

The young people who spoke to us had very different experiences of childhood. A few, like Joseph, Hannah and Sameeha described their childhood as “normal”, “good upbringing” while others had difficult childhood experiences such as bullying or family violence. Chapman came to the UK from Zimbabwe to seek asylum aged 16 and his sister, who he was close to, died when he was very young. Reflecting on their childhood could help people understand their later experiences of psychosis.
Behavioural and learning difficulties

Some of the people we interviewed recalled having difficulties controlling their emotions when they were very young, and were seen as “disruptive” at school. Fran could be “out of control” and, as a young boy, Tariq was known as “the naughty one”. Having other physical or mental health experiences alongside psychosis could create additional challenges that affected people in different ways: Barry was diagnosed with autism and had “fixed ideas” which meant he sometimes refused to accept other people’s opinions. Andrew Z had Asperger’s which caused problems at home, though not at school, where he got on well with his peers.
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Low mood and self-esteem

Some people experienced low and depressed mood and lack of self-esteem as children. Severe depression and severe anxiety are listed by NHS Choices as possible psychological conditions that can trigger psychosis. Some people talked about feeling low and anxious because of family circumstances and bullying at school. Low mood could reach extremes and Sam, Nikki and Ruby self-harmed - for Ruby, whose father was abusive towards her, this began when she was just 9 years old. Low mood and depression are also common symptoms for those who experience bipolar disorder: Luke suffered from depression and low mood through sixth form without a diagnosis and now has a diagnosis of bipolar disorder.

Bullying can have a lasting impact on a young person’s life, affecting their self-esteem, and ability to make friends. Where prolonged bullying leads to absence from school this can also affect study and life chances and effects self-confidence and self-esteem. 

Bullying could range from odd remarks to frequent attacks that were not addressed by parents or school teachers. The reasons for the bullying varied. Tariq was bullied at school because of his faith, Dominic was bullied because of the colour of his hair. Nikki, who had unusual experiences from the age of 6, mentions being bullied for being “different”.
Memories of bullying and the emotions attached to them could be very strong. Some, people felt that the anxiety associated with the bullying contributed to the experience of psychosis.
But the lack of confidence that resulted from bullying could be reversed when people later had positive experiences with their peers.
Unusual Experiences in childhood

The young people who spoke to us had had their first notable experience of psychosis between the ages of 14 and 21. However, some described having unusual experiences during their childhood, before more “obvious” signs of psychosis began. During Chapman’s childhood in Zimbabwe he remembers seeing things that were out of place and not knowing if they were real or not. He didn’t tell anyone because he was afraid of being outcaste from his community. Fran said she used to see pixies in the grass and thought everybody saw them.
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