BACKGROUND: Dysregulation of the HPA-axis, perceived stress and interpersonal trauma are associated with an elevated risk for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Being at familial high-risk of these two mental disorders also constitutes an increased risk. In this study, we aimed to investigate hair cortisol concentrations and perceived stress among 7-year-old children at familial high-risk of schizophrenia (FHR-SZ), bipolar disorder (FHR-BP), and population-based controls (controls).

METHODS: A total of 515 children (mean age 7.8, SD 0.2) from baseline assessment of the Danish High Risk and Resilience Study - VIA 7 participated in this study. Hair cortisol concentrations were analyzed among 322 children (FHR-SZ; N = 111, FHR-BP; N = 82, controls; N = 129). Perceived stress was assessed with the Daily Life Stressor Scale including 512 children (FHR-SZ; N = 195, FHR-BP; N = 118, controls; N = 199). Interpersonal trauma was measured with face-to-face interviews.

RESULTS: Seven-year-old children at FHR-SZ or FHR-BP did not have a higher level of hair cortisol concentrations compared with controls (FHR-SZ: mean: 5.10, 95%CI 3.69-6.52; FHR-BP: mean: 5.01, 95%CI 3.27-6.72; controls: mean: 4.51, 95%CI 3.61-5.40; p = 0.77). Self-reported perceived stress was higher among children at FHR-SZ and FHR-BP compared with controls (FHR-SZ: mean: 12.09, 95%CI 10.99-13.19; FHR-BP: mean: 10.69, 95%CI 9.38-11.99; controls: mean: 8.90, 95%CI 8.13-9.68; p < 0.001). There was no significant association between hair cortisol concentrations and perceived stress (p = 0.84). Exploratory analyses revealed that interpersonal trauma exposure was neither associated with elevated hair cortisol nor perceived stress.

CONCLUSIONS: Children at FHR-SZ and FHR-BP did not exhibit higher levels of hair cortisol concentrations at age 7, while both FHR-groups had higher level of self-reported perceived stress compared with controls. Early attention to stress in children at FHR is crucial and these vulnerabilities should be targeted in future interventions studies.

Original languageEnglish
Article number110750
JournalProgress in neuro-psychopharmacology & biological psychiatry
Pages (from-to)110750
Publication statusPublished - 13 Jul 2023


  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Child
  • Denmark/epidemiology
  • Hair/chemistry
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone/analysis
  • Schizophrenia
  • Stress, Psychological


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