Prevention and Early Intervention Program for Psychosis (PEPP-Montréal), Douglas Mental Health University Institute, Verdun, Canada; McGill University, Department of Psychiatry, Montréal, Québec, Canada; University of Konstanz, Department of Clinical Psychology, Konstanz, Germany. Electronic address: [Email]
Early life adversity is associated with increased risk for psychosis onset and poor clinical outcome. Male compared to female patients often show a more severe course of psychotic illness. The aim of the present study was to investigate gender differences in childhood trauma (CT) and their impact on symptomatic and functional outcome following psychosis onset. The study included 210 patients (144 men, 66 women) diagnosed with a first-episode of psychosis (FEP). Early adversity was assessed with the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire. Psychotic symptoms and general functioning were rated with the Brief Psychiatric Rating Scale and Global Assessment of Functioning scale at baseline, 12 and 24 months of follow-up in an established early intervention service. Male patients reported higher rates of physical or emotional neglect, whereas female patients indicated significantly higher rates of emotional abuse. More severe CT was related to higher levels of depression in women and to negative symptoms in men. Distinct CT effects were observed on positive and negative symptom severity and global functioning in male patients at 24 months. Emotional abuse was the strongest predictor of depression in both genders. In male patients only, emotional abuse predicted positive symptom severity and impaired global functioning, whereas emotional neglect predicted more severe negative symptoms. Our results suggest differences in CT experiences in male and female FEP patients, with a more pronounced impact on longer-term outcome in male patients. The findings support the notion that sex differences in stress vulnerability account for the relatively poor illness course in male psychosis patients.