January 16, 2012

Immigrants may Develop Woes Later on

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Joseph V. Madia, MD By:

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Schizophrenia or other psychosis predicted by young age at immigration

(dailyRx News) Immigrating to a new country is never easy. For some young children, immigration increases the risk of severe mental problems later.

A Dutch study found the number of immigrants who developed psychotic disorders increased as the age of immigration decreased. Children younger than 4 had the highest risk for problems later in life.

People who immigrated at age 29 showed the same low risk as ordinary citizens.

"See a mental health professional for help with any size problem."

Those statistics do not apply to immigrants from Western nations. They and ordinary citizens had no increased risk of psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia, says Wim Veling, M.D., Ph.D. He is a researcher at the Parnassia Psychiatric Institute in The Hague, Netherlands.

Psychotic disorders appeared among immigrants from Morocco, Netherlands Antilles, Suriname and Turkey. Such immigrants face more cultural challenges than immigrants from highly industrialized Western nations.

Increased rates of schizophrenia also occur in some other immigrant groups elsewhere. A surprising part of Dr. Velig's study is the influence of young age, says an editorial accompanying Dr. Velig's article in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

The editorial is by Australian physicians who have done similar research. The main author is Dr. John McGrath from the Queensland Center for Mental Health Research in St. Lucia, Australia.

Dr. Velig's results came from Dutch citizens and immigrants, ages 15 - 54, who contacted a physician about a suspected psychotic disorder. All lived in The Hague sometime between 1997 – 2005.

Dr. Velig says he found 273 immigrants, 119 second-generation citizens and 226 Dutch citizens. He used those numbers to make adjusted risk ratios, compared to healthy Dutch citizens.

It is well known that major trauma increases the risk of a psychotic disorder. An accompanying editorial suggests that perhaps the immigrating parents were so stressed that their parenting abilities suffered. The youngest, most defenseless children were affected the most.

Dr. Velig and his team published the observational study in the December issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry. Major funding sources included the Theodore and Vada Stanley Foundation and the Netherlands Organization for Health Research and Development.

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Reviewed by: 
Joseph V. Madia, MD
Review Date: 
January 13, 2012

Last Updated:
January 16, 2012