Monday, March 4, 2013

Immigration May Contribute to Mental Health Problems

Previous research has suggested that immigrating to a foreign country was a risk factor for schizophrenia. Now it appears to be a risk factor for other mental disorders as well, according to findings of a large population study headed by Elizabeth Cantor-Graae, Ph.D., of Lund University in Sweden and published in JAMA Psychiatry. The study included almost 2 million Danish residents, not just originally from Denmark, but from some other 170 countries, as well as some Danes living abroad. Immigrants' psychiatric disorders were compared with those of Danish-born residents of Denmark. All categories of immigrants were found to be at increased risk for at least one psychiatric disorder. Native Danes living abroad were at a heightened risk for bipolar disorder and schizophrenia spectrum disorders. Foreign-born adoptees were found to be the most at risk of mental illness of all the immigrants studied.

Although there could be various explanations for these findings, one might be the psychological stress that comes from settling in a foreign country—the stress of having to learn a new language, looking different, or not being able to find work. Indeed, the unemployment rates among immigrants from low-income countries in this study were three times higher than those of Danish-born residents.

More information about research on the link between immigration and schizophrenia  can be found in Psychiatric News here. Information about the challenges of being an international medical graduate in America can be found in Psychiatric News here. Also, see a letter to the editor in the American Journal of Psychiatry in which the Swedish researchers discuss this study.

(Image: alexskopje/


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