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Migration and schizophrenia

Selten, Jean-Paula; Cantor-Graae, Elizabethb; Kahn, René Sa

Current Opinion in Psychiatry: March 2007 - Volume 20 - Issue 2 - p 111–115
doi: 10.1097/YCO.0b013e328017f68e

Purpose of review An exploration of the evidence that a history of migration is a risk factor for schizophrenia and an evaluation of those studies that seek an explanation for this.

Recent findings A meta-analysis found an increased risk for schizophrenia among first-generation and second-generation migrants and found a particularly high risk for migrants from countries where the majority of the population was Black. The latter finding was confirmed and extended by a large first-contact incidence study in the UK, which 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.

Summary 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. There is an increasing interest in the impact of social stressors on brain functioning and on the pathogenesis of schizophrenia.

aDepartment of Psychiatry, University Medical Centre, Utrecht, the Netherlands

bDepartment of Health Sciences, Lund University, Malmö University Hospital, Sweden

Correspondence to Dr J.P. Selten, Rudolf Magnus Institute of Neuroscience, Department of Psychiatry, University Medical Centre, Utrecht, P.O. Box 85500, 3508 GA Utrecht, the Netherlands Tel: +31 30 2508180; fax: +31 30 2505466; e-mail:

© 2007 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.