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Study challenges idea that schizophrenia is distinct in developing and developed regions

Research by the World Health Organization (WHO) has suggested that the course and symptomatic expression of schizophrenia is relatively more benign in developing societies. However, a new study from Current Anthropology challenges this assumption, comparing biological and cultural indicators of schizophrenia in urban, Western societies with study data from the island of Palau, which has one of the highest rates of schizophrenia diagnosis in the world today.

A 1% average worldwide population prevalence of schizophrenia is routinely interpreted in the medical literature as implying a uniform distribution, write Roger J. Sullivan (California State University, Sacramento), John S. Allen (University of Southern California), and Karen L. Nero (University of Canterbury, New Zealand). In this sense, the 1% figure is a myth that conceals considerable variability in actual prevalence between settings.

The researchers point to the islands in Micronesia as an example of this variation. Prevalence of schizophrenia ranges from a low of 0.4% in the Marshall Islands to 1.7% in the western Republic of Palau a more than fourfold difference. The expression of schizophrenia in Palau and greater Micronesia is also extraordinarily gendered, with rates of affliction approximately two times higher among males than among females.

Recognizing this high variability in prevalence between populations is important, write the researchers, . . . Genetic perspectives tend to emphasize uniformity in prevalence and symptomatic expression while contextual sociocultural perspectives tend to emphasize variability.

The authors combined quantitative clinical diagnostic tools of symptoms like poor impulse control and eye-tracking with qualitative methods such as patient interviews. Compared to a sample of New Yorkers and other similar studies in New Zealand and Scotland, their findings challenge the idea put forth by the WHO and other research that schizophren
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Contact: Suzanne Wu
swu@press.uchicago.edu
773-834-0386
University of Chicago Press Journals
14-Mar-2007


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