Women with a history of childhood abuse are twice as likely to suffer from severe mental problem, suggests a new study.
However, the same association has not been found in men, which suggests that both boys and girls respond to traumatic and upsetting experiences differently.
During the study, the researchers looked at people aged 16-64 and divided them into two groups.
Those in the first group had experienced psychotic symptoms, such as hallucinations or delusions and received treatment for depression, mania or schizophrenia.
While the second group had no mental health problems, and acted as a control sample. Both groups were asked whether they experienced physical or sexual abuse during their childhood.
The study showed that women with psychosis were twice as likely to report either physical or sexual abuse compared to healthy women.
One possible explanation, according to researchers could be that girls are more likely to 'internalise' difficulties than boys.
In other words, girls who are abused may distance themselves from other people, and become overly suspicious of other people's behaviour.
This may put them at greater risk of psychotic symptoms in the future, such as paranoid delusions.
However, boys may be more likely to 'act out' following physical abuse and potentially be at greater risk for antisocial behaviour.
"These findings do not mean that if a child is abused they will develop psychosis; but women with such disorders are more likely to reveal a background which included childhood abuse," said lead author Helen Fisher, Researcher in Psychosis at the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London.
"These findings point to the need for gender-specific interventions for abused children to prevent later mental health and behavioural problems.
"We also know that there are psychological, biological and genetic factors that may contribute to this condition in women and more attention needs to be given to understanding how adult psychosis develops," she added.
The study appears in the British Journal of Psychiatry.