Relationship of sexual abuse to the development of schizophrenia

Schizophrenia linked to environmental causes

A New Zealand court case about the relationship of sexual abuse to the development of schizophrenia has potential for alternative understandings around causes of mental illness to be considered in legal contexts.

That’s the conclusion from a study by researchers at the Centre for Mental Health Research at the University of Auckland of a case SL versus the Accident Compensation Commission in 2013.

In a paper, published this week in the journal of Psychiatry, Psychology and Law, the authors Katey Thom and Tony O’Brien looked at the implications of the case for the role of expert witnesses and the balancing of expert opinions in decisions on medical issues. They also discussed the impact on future ACC decisions in New Zealand.

“The case has the potential to be influential in future ACC decisions in New Zealand by setting a precedent for non-biological determinism when considering the causes of mental disorders, says Dr O’Brien from the University of Auckland’s School of Nursing.

“The decision could also have an impact on the low numbers of sensitive claims for independent allowance currently approved by ACC in New Zealand,” he says. “Overall, the case draws attention to the growing acceptance of the evidence that associates the development of mental illness with environmental factors, such as childhood sexual abuse.”

“The legal system in this case, has created a new benchmark for the recognition of one such factor, childhood sexual abuse, in the development of the most troubling of all mental illnesses, schizophrenia.”