May 17, 2007

Social Stress Associated with Immigration Identified as a High Risk Factor for Schizophrenia

A new study has found an increased risk for schizophrenia among first-generation and second-generation immigrants and found a particularly high risk for immigrants from countries where the majority of the population was Black.

Researcher studies done in the past have suggested that the prenatal and social stress, racism and poverty that has been a common experience for people that immigrate (especially those who's skin color doesn't match that of the new majority of people in the new country) results in higher rates of mental illness. Many researchers are also studying the effect of prenatal stress in the role of prediposing people to mental illness (see here for more info)

This new study, published in the research journal "Current Opinion In Psychiatry" found excessive risks for schizophrenia and mania in the African-Caribbean and black-African sections of the population. A very high risk of schizophrenia has also been reported for Moroccan males in the Netherlands. The explanation for these findings is uncertain.

Social adversity, racial discrimination, family dysfunction, unemployment and poor housing conditions have been proposed as contributing factors. According to one hypothesis, the chronic experience of social defeat disturbs dopamine function in the brain. The term "social defeat" refers to the feelings of social isolation, powerlessness and feelings of "outsider status". These experiences are common for immigrants and frequently lead to depression, anxiety, sociophobia, loss of self-esteem, psychosomatic diseases, and similar behavioral symptoms.

A personal or family history of migration is a high risk factor for schizophrenia and there is now strong evidence against selective migration as the explanation," wrote J.P. Selten and colleagues, Malmo University.

The researchers conclude that "There is an increasing interest in the impact of social stressors on brain functioning and on the pathogenesis of schizophrenia."

Study Source: Migration and schizophrenia. Current Opinion In Psychiatry, 2007;20(2):111-5).

Related Reading: UK Carribean Migrants Have Higher Risk of Schizophrenia

Social defeat: risk factor for schizophrenia? (British Journal of Psychiatry Editorial)


This high social stress is also the likely cause of high rates of schizophrenia in inner city areas.

Posted by: Tom at May 19, 2007 11:05 AM

The susceptiility is genetic but the social environment can become very punishing in these unfortunate sensitive individuals.It is not hard to see that many can flip given the right pressure at the right time.The corrolary to this is if suspected early these poor souls can be saved from misery of lifetime by moving to less agreesive and more forgiving neighbourhood or a country. The tragedy is that early symptoms can easily be confused with adolescent tantrums or changes and by mid twenties it can be too late with individual brain chemistry and circuits set in a protective shell.A careful eye on these high risk groups by trained eyes may pay dividents.Can a developed country not afford to do this?

Posted by: V Dawda at March 1, 2008 05:02 AM

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