From Mad In America: New research was conducted to study how immigration affects mental health in Sweden. The researchers wanted to find out if immigrants living in areas where they are surrounded by others from the same region of origin are less likely to develop psychotic disorders. Psychotic disorders are when a person experiences hallucinations (seeing, hearing, feeling things others cannot), delusions (strange or bizarre beliefs such as ‘I am God’), and strange behavior. These areas are called “own-region high-density” neighborhoods.
The study was led by Jennifer Dykxhoorn from the University College of London. The researchers found that living in these own-region high-density neighborhoods actually protects against psychotic disorders. In other words, immigrants living around people who are from a person’s own land/culture (area of origin) have lower chances of becoming psychotic. This is especially true for immigrants who are easily recognized as minorities. This suggests that the increased risk of mental disorders found in immigrant communities is likely due to social factors and discrimination.
In the past, many studies have shown that immigrants, especially minority groups, are more likely to be diagnosed with mental disorders like psychosis. This risk is even higher for refugees who have experienced traumatic events. There are different theories for why this happens. Some researchers believe it’s because of the difficulties immigrants face when adapting to a new culture, and the stress it brings. Others think it’s because moving from one culture to another can cause a sense of disconnection and loss of identity.
Immigrants and minority groups are also more likely to experience forced medical treatment.
In this study, Dykxhoorn and her team collected data from a Swedish database called “Psychiatry Sweden.” They focused on migrants and their children who were born between 1982 and 1996, were permanent residents of Sweden, and were 15 years or older. They identified a group of 468,223 individuals, out of which 4,582 had been diagnosed with a non-affective psychotic disorder.
The researchers found that living in high-density areas was protective for many ethnic groups. The chances of getting a psychotic disorder increased when the own-region migrant density decreased. This effect was stronger for migrants who were visible minorities, which included people from Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, and South America. However, this effect was not found for people from non-visible minority groups.
The researchers also found that the risk of psychosis was higher for migrants than for their children, and this risk increased in low-density areas.
The researchers believe that the reason behind these findings is related to social factors. Migrants living in areas with higher own-region density have more social support, feel more included, face less discrimination and prejudice, and have a stronger sense of community and belonging. Being part of a wider community can provide support and help with various aspects of life. On the other hand, living in areas with low ethnic density can lead to feeling different from the surroundings, experiencing more social stress, and facing discrimination.
These findings show the importance of community and connection. Living in areas with many people who share a similar appearance, culture, and language can have a positive effect on mental health. Previous studies have shown that close social relationships and frequent social interactions can help people experiencing symptoms associated with psychosis.
This article originally appeared in Mad in America and can be read here.
This is an AI generated version edited for a South Asian audience.