Objectives. Approximately one third of people with early psychosis report post-traumatic symptoms, some of which are thought to arise from traumatic experiences associated with psychosis itself. This prospective study tested hypotheses based on retrospective findings that threat appraisals of voices, persecutors, or the new label of ‘mental health patient’ predict symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Methods. Appraisals of power and threat from voices and other persecutors and appraisals of the threat posed to identity by the diagnosis were assessed during the first acute phase of psychosis. Eighteen months later, PTSD symptom levels and diagnosis were established.
Results. Of 39 participants who completed the follow-up phase, 12 (31%) met criteria for PTSD diagnosis. Nineteen (49%) of the participants were still distressed by memories of their psychosis or the associated treatment. During the acute phase of psychosis, appraisals of threat from voices and persecutors were strongly associated with distress. With the exception of the perceived ability to cope with threat, none of these appraisals were predictive of subsequent post-traumatic stress however. Similarly, only one appraisal of the diagnosis (loss of control) was predictive of PTSD.
Conclusion. It may be that retrospective studies have overestimated the influence of candidate appraisals in predicting PTSD. It might also be that assessments made during the acute phase of psychosis preceded a key phase of psychological processing that takes place during the immediate aftermath of the psychotic episode. A staged prospective design is required to uncover the true impact of psychosis on PTSD.