How is migration related to schizophrenia?

The term “migrant” usually refers to first generation migrants; people with a foreign birth place, however some studies also include their locally-born offspring, or second generation migrants. Any association found between migrant status and increased risk of schizophrenia has stimulated a great deal of research and explanatory hypotheses, including the stress relating to migration and settling into a new country, and possible issues with discrimination. Other explanations include a tendency for at-risk individuals to migrate, and differences in underlying genetic vulnerability across cultures.

What is the evidence regarding migration as a risk factor for schizophrenia?

Moderate quality evidence finds increased incidence and prevalence of schizophrenia in migrants compared to native-born individuals. The risk remains after adjusting for age, sex, and socio-economic status. The increased incidence was found in people who migrated between infancy and adolescence, but not during early adulthood (19-29 years).

There was a medium-sized, increased risk of non-affective psychosis (including schizophrenia) in refugees compared to native-born people, a small to medium-sized increased risk of non-affective psychosis in non-refugee migrants compared to native-born people, and small increased risk of non-affective psychosis in refugees than in non-refugee migrants.

There was increased incidence of schizophrenia in both first and second generation migrants, particularly in migrants from developing countries and in migrants with black skin. There was a large increased risk of schizophrenia in black Caribbean and black African migrants and their descendants in the UK compared to the white British population. Asian migrants in the UK show a medium-sized increased risk of schizophrenia compared to the white British-born population.

April 2022

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Last updated at: 3:46 pm, 20th April 2022
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Fact Sheet Technical Commentary
Tags:  Migrants

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