Do Refugees Have a Higher Incidence of Schizophrenia than Immigrants?

Yes, at least according to a recent data linkage study of 1,191,004 Swedes, 24,123 refugees and 132,663 migrants arriving in Sweden.[1] While immigrants had an adjusted increase risk of 1.7, the increase was three-fold for refugees. The study was based on over 8.9 million person years of follow-up. Among refugees from sub-Saharan Africa the gradient between refugees and immigrants was not apparent, but the overall risk was higher. This finding is compatible with a more psychogenic provenance across both refugees and migrants in Africa and/or greater discrimination on arrival. Schizophrenia is a rare disease – the overall incidence was well under one in 1,000 in the above study, but the CLAHRC WM Director thinks it may be a bell-weather for higher population risk of other mental illness. Refugees are at risk of post-traumatic stress disorder.

— Richard Lilford, CLAHRC WM Director

References:

  1. Hollander AC, Dal H, Lewis G, et al. Refugee migration and risk of schizophrenia and other non-affective psychoses: cohort study of 1.3 million people in Sweden. BMJ. 2016; 352: i1030.
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