Auditory hallucinations in childhood: associations with adversity and delusional ideation

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Abstract

Background

Previous work suggests that exposure to childhood adversity is associated with the combination of delusions and hallucinations. In the present study, associations between (severity of) auditory vocal hallucinations (AVH) and (i) social adversity [traumatic experiences (TE) and stressful events (SE)] and (ii) delusional ideation were examined.

Method

A baseline case-control sample of children with and without AVH were re-assessed on AVH after 5 years and interviewed about the experience of social adversity and delusions.

Results

A total of 337 children (mean age 13.1 years, S.D. = 0.5) were assessed: 40 children continued to hear voices that were present at baseline (24%, persistent group), 15 heard voices only at follow-up (9%, incident group), 130 children no longer reported AVH that were present at baseline (remitted group) and 152 never heard voices (referent group). Both TE and SE were associated with both incident and persistent AVH, as well as with greater AVH severity and delusional ideation at follow-up. In addition, the combination of AVH and delusions displayed a stronger association with TE and SE compared with either AVH or delusions alone.

Conclusions

Early childhood AVH are mostly benign and transitory. However, experience of social adversity is associated with persistence, severity and onset of new AVH closer to puberty, and with delusional ideation.

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