Experiences of psychosis

Childhood and life before psychosis diagnosis

Some people felt loved and supported by their parents and felt they had ‘normal’ childhoods, but others felt their parents had not properly cared for them. Some people said that as children they had been very sensitive to events and upheavals such as conflicts in the family, moving to another area, growing up in care, or being at boarding school. Several had felt lonely and isolated for various reasons, e.g. feeling different from other children, being anxious and lacking social skills, or having been bullied (See more about traumatic experiences such as sexual and physical abuse in ‘Views about causes and traumatic experiences’).

When people looked back on their childhood, they often saw problems now that they didn’t see at the time. For example, some said that they had felt anxious, depressed or alone, or that they had been heavily criticised at school or home. Some people looked back at their teenage years and either thought that personal changes (e.g. being moody, aggressive, ‘rebellious’ or withdrawn) could be part of being a teenager, or in hindsight could have been the start of mental health problems. A number of people only gradually realised the lasting impact of extreme events like childhood sexual abuse on their wellbeing.
Talking about childhood
Although some people talked about having ‘normal’ childhoods, such as spending time with friends, going to school then leaving school for work or university, others felt that there had always been something ‘wrong’ from an early age. A few talked about the difficulties of having to make different friends at new schools. A few people said they had spent much time on their own as children, either walking, spending time in parks or woods, or listening to music. A couple of people also mentioned that they had learning difficulties at school that were not recognised at the time.
Several people had been bullied as a child. For some this was only occasional or they felt they were ‘separate’ from other children, others felt that their childhoods were dominated by extreme forms of bullying – a couple of people described it as torture - and that they still felt the effects of this in their adult life (for more detail see 'Views about causes and traumatic events').
Many people remembered that as children they struggled to express or know what they were feeling. People talked about feeling empty, alone, or feeling things like a ‘blackness’ inside them. Some people were clear that they had mental health problems as children. Others felt that they were always labelled the problem child or that they felt more emotional than most. Many also said that people around them – like their parents – were often (although not always) unaware of their growing mental distress. Sometimes parents did not believe their child had problems, or could not get others to believe their child had problems.
Ron's family ‘didn’t do hugs’ - they did not show affection physically. He felt that various things like that and the sexual abuse he experienced when a child, combined to leave him unable to ‘do relationships’ when he was an adult.
Noticing changes
It was hard for people to put into words what was happening at the time, but they spoke about how they seemed to change with the onset of mental health problems. Some people remember feeling different' two said it felt like ‘heat stroke’, or feeling angry and not knowing why at the time (for more detail on the onset of mental distress see ‘Onset of severe mental distress’). Others described changes in their behaviour, feeling anxious, or starting to hear voices when they were very young. Some people assumed that everyone heard voices, or that they shouldn’t talk about their voices.
Whether people had experienced difficulties as children or whether they had felt their childhoods had been mainly happy, most people felt that looking back on their experiences could help them understand more about their problems and who they were today.

Last reviewed July 2017.


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