Social environment, ethnicity and schizophrenia
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Background There is accumulating evidence that genetic and neurodevelopmental factors cannot solely account for the pathogenesis of schizophrenia. In view of the reportedly increased incidence of schizophrenia among the African-Caribbean population in Britain, we sought to establish the socio-environmental influences which distinguished African-Caribbean patients from white British and Asian patients with schizophrenia, as well as from normal population controls of the same community. Method A matched case-control study was conducted in London between 1991 and 1993. Inclusion criteria for patients was a first onset psychosis between the ages of 18 and 64. Symptoms were recorded using the Present State Examination (PSE), and a research diagnosis of schizophrenia was made using the CATEGO program. Comparisons were made on a range of demographic and socio-environmental measures between patients (n = 100: 38 African-Caribbean, 38 white and 24 Asian) and the same number of normal controls. Results Three socio-environmental variables differentiated the African-Caribbean cases from their peers and their normal controls: unemployment, living alone and a long period of separation from either or both parents as a minor. Though all patients were much more likely than controls to be unemployed at first contact with the services (odds ratio 5.5, 95 % CI 2.59, 11.68), the odds ratio was highest among African-Caribbeans, and further conditional logistic regression analysis demonstrated that unemployment was significantly associated with the high rate of caseness among African-Caribbeans. However, the direction of cause and effect cannot be determined from this type of study. Despite the fact that African-Caribbean cases were more likely than their peers and same group controls to live alone (p < 0.05), this did not achieve significance using Fisher's Exact Test. Separation from both parents in childhood distinguished African-Caribbean cases from their controls and from cases and controls of the other ethnic groups (odds ratio 5.0, 95 % CI 1.09, 22.82). This event cannot be attributed to the premorbid manifestations of schizophrenia, nor to psychoses in the parents, and hence is a possible explanatory factor for the high incidence of schizophrenia among African-Caribbeans in Britain. Conclusions These findings indicate that unemployment and early separation from both parents distinguish African-Caribbeans diagnosed with schizophrenia from their counterparts of other ethnic groups as well as their normal peers, and imply that more attention needs to be focussed on socio-environmental variables in schizophrenia research.
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