SUNDAY, Feb. 23, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Preteens who changed schools frequently when they were children are at increased risk of developing psychotic symptoms, a new study suggests.
Having such symptoms at a young age is associated with a greater likelihood of mental health problems and suicide in adulthood, according to the researchers at Warwick Medical School in Coventry, England.
They analyzed data on nearly 6,500 families from a long-term study of children in southwest England. At age 12, the participants were asked if they had experienced psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations and delusions in the past six months.
Those who had changed schools three times or more when they were younger had a 60 percent increased risk of having at least one psychotic symptom, according to the study published online recently in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
"Changing schools can be very stressful for students," study leader Swaran Singh said in a Warwick news release. "Our study found that the process of moving schools may itself increase the risk of psychotic symptoms -- independent of other factors. But additionally, being involved in bullying, sometimes as a consequence of repeated school moves, may exacerbate risk for the individual."
Changing schools often may cause youngsters to develop low self-esteem and a "sense of social defeat," the researchers noted. They also said that feelings of isolation can lead to brain changes that increase the risk of psychotic symptoms in vulnerable youngsters.
"It's clear that we need to keep school mobility in mind when clinically assessing young people with psychotic disorders," study co-author Dr. Cath Winsper, a senior research fellow at the medical school, said in the news release. "It should be explored as a matter of course as the impact can be both serious and potentially long-lasting. Schools should develop strategies to help these students to establish themselves in their new environment."
Although the study found a connection between frequent school changes and an increased risk of psychosis symptoms in preteens, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.
The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more about child and adolescent mental health.