BBC News

Saturday, 22 June, 2002, 23:03 GMT 00:03 UK

Schizophrenia rates are high among African-Caribbeans

Social factors 'cause ethnic schizophrenia'

BBC News

Unemployment and early separation from both parents may be key factors behind the higher rates of schizophrenia in British African-Caribbeans, research suggests.

Rates of schizophrenia are up to twice as high among this sector of the population.

It is clear that schizophrenia isn't just down to poor genetics or neuro-developmental patterns
Dr Rosemarie Mallet

The study by the Centre for Caribbean Medicine at King's College London suggests the main reasons may be social.

The researchers compared rates of schizophrenia among African-Caribbeans in London with those in Trinidad and Barbados.

They found that the rate was much higher in the UK - strongly suggesting that social, rather than genetic factors played an important role.

They went on to find that UK African-Caribbeans who had been separated from one or both parents for four years or more during childhood were more likely to develop schizophrenia.

A similar link was also seen with unemployment in British Afro-Caribbeans.


Dr Rosemarie Mallet, a medical sociologist based at King's College Institute of Psychiatry and lead author of the paper, said: "This research highlights the significance of social disadvantage as a cause of severe mental illness.

"It's important we find out why this disease is more prevalent in this ethnic group, not least because of the distress it causes to patients and relatives in this disadvantaged section of the population.

"The knock-on effect of the increased rate is a greater strain on psychiatric services in London and inner city hospitals.

"Plus, on another level, finding out the cause of the disease in African-Caribbeans will help us to understand it better in all populations, because it is clear that schizophrenia isn't just down to poor genetics or neuro-developmental patterns."

Professor Roger Jones, UK Executive Director of the Centre for Caribbean Medicine, said: "There are large communities of African-Caribbeans around King's College in south London and we believe we have an obligation to investigate the health inequalities that can occur in them."

The research will be published in the journal Social Psychiatry & Psychiatric Epidemiology.