Urban Social Factors Influence Schizophrenia


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Schizophrenia is more common in urban areas. Image by Franco Filini.

Schizophrenia is more common in urban areas. Image by Franco Filini.

When someone is described as “schizophrenic,” do you picture a homeless person in a city?

Research into the social factors affecting rates of schizophrenia, or “nonaffective psychosis,” has shown that that image is not just in your head: People living without social ties in crowded urban areas are actually more likely to be schizophrenic, according to research conducted in East London by Dr. James B. Kirkbride and colleagues.

But why?

Ethnic Separation Increases Risk of Psychosis

Kirkbride used sophisticated statistical analyses to determine if areas of East London included ethnically separate communities.

The study found that people fared better if they lived in areas where other members of their ethnic group also lived; having others around with the same background, religion, and traditions decreases the risk of psychosis.

Nonaffective Psychosis: Crowding is a Risk Factor

Living in crowded conditions is associated with an increased risk of nonaffective psychosis. Kirkbride theorizes that the risk may be due to the transient nature of social interactions in crowded areas. In his paper published in Schizophrenia Bulletin in 2012, Kirkbride speculates that “more dense environments may serve to increase paranoid ideation through exposing people susceptible to psychosis to a greater number of unknown individuals.”

Kirkbride admits that others point to physical factors exacerbated by crowding:  poorer nutrition, lower levels of vitamin D, and infectious disease.

When asked by Decoded Science about the possibility that schizophrenics might move to urban areas for access to services, Kirkbride noted that, “[p]eople born in cities have an increased risk of developing psychotic disorders like schizophrenia,” which implies that “social drift” or impaired people moving into cities for services would not adequately explain the phenomena.

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