UCL News


Frequent home moves may raise psychosis risk in children

23 August 2018

Young people who moved homes more frequently in childhood and adolescence may be at increased risk of developing psychotic disorder before 30 years of age, new research led by UCL's Division of Psychiatry reveals.

Photo by Johann Walter Bantz on Unsplash

The study, published in JAMA Psychiatry, shows that disruptions caused by frequent moves are strongly linked to the risk of future psychotic disorder.

"We were interested in finding out whether residential instability, which may be a marker for disruption to family life or friendship networks as a child or teenager, affected risk of psychotic disorder," said the study's lead author, Dr James B. Kirkbride.

To assess the link between residential moves and risk for non-affective psychotic disorder, the researchers followed 1,440,383 children from birth to age 29 in Sweden. They evaluated data on residential moves and the distance moved for participants from 0 to 6 years, 7 to 15 years, 16 to 19 years, and 20 years and older.

They found the most sensitive range for an association between moving house and psychosis occurred during late adolescence (16 to 19 years). After taking into account other possible factors which might have explained this, including family income, parental death and education, people in their late teens who moved every year were twice as likely to develop a psychotic disorder in the future than those who never moved.

Moving as an adult seemed to have less of an effect on developing psychosis disorder, with evidence showing there was a much weaker link between moving and the disorder after age 20.

Furthermore, moving greater distances before age 16 years was associated with an increased risk for nonaffective psychosis, with evidence of effect for moves longer than 30 km.

Dr Kirkbride said the association between moving more often in childhood and adolescence and future psychotic disorder may be explained by a variety of social factors. "One possible factor is that frequently moving house makes it more difficult to form and maintain friendships or have access to social support networks in times of need."

Although the study did not draw on other factors including family discord, quality of friendships, and peer problems such as bullying, the researchers believe these findings could have potential implications for child health services and social policy.

"For most young people, moving once or twice will not affect future risk of psychotic disorder, which is very rare. But for those children living in the most unstable environments, providing adequate support networks and communities for young people who move house very frequently may help to minimise the risk associated with disruption of social networks, and may lower future risk of psychotic disorder," said Dr Kirkbride.

The study was partly supported by the Wellcome Trust and Royal Society.