Schizophrenia is a mental health condition that can severely impair an individual’s quality of life. People who are at risk for schizophrenia sometimes exhibit early symptoms, such as psychosis or hallucinations. However, other risk factors exist that increase a person’s chance of developing schizophrenia. In Denmark, studies have been conducted that show that second-generation immigrants are more likely to develop the illness than nonimmigrants. Although discrimination could play a role in risk, more needs to be known. As a follow-up to previous research, Carsten Bocker Pedersen of the National Centre for Register-based Research at Aarhus University in Denmark recently led a study that explored the relationship between risk and parental origin or genetics with regards to schizophrenia.
For his most recent study, Pedersen compared 892 individuals with schizophrenia to 883 control subjects and assessed their genetic history as well as their parental origin. He found that the participants who were born to foreign-origin parents were almost twice as likely to develop schizophrenia as those born to Danish citizens. Additionally, individuals with genetic variation were two and half times more likely to develop the illness than those with no genetic variance. Pedersen based his research on data collected from the Danish civil registry and examined the alleles of the participants to determine the genetic variance.
Although there are many other risk factors for schizophrenia, this research sheds some new light on two factors that may increase a person’s vulnerability. Therapists and mental health professionals working with people at risk may want to look at both of these factors independently and together, when assessing the likelihood of schizophrenia. Pedersen added, “In terms of relative risk of schizophrenia, genetic divergence and parental foreign country of birth are interchangeable entities and both entities have validity with regard to identifying second-generation immigrants.” Because this research was conducted with Danish citizens, future studies should focus on other ethnic groups to determine if this finding extends across cultures.
Pedersen, C. B., Demontis, D., Pedersen, M. S., Agerbo, E., Mortensen, P. B. (2012). Risk of schizophrenia in relation to parental origin and genome-wide divergence. Psychological Medicine 42.7, 1515-1521.
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