IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The social environment of people with schizophrenia, specifically the quantity of social support they receive, may affect how long they live, according to a University of Iowa study published in the March 22 issue of the journal Psychosomatic Medicine.
Alan J. Christensen, UI associate professor of psychology and the study's lead author, said the researchers found that patients with schizophrenia who had frequent social interaction lived on average 25 percent longer than patients who had little or no social interaction.
"The findings are consistent with other studies that show social factors are related to physical health and mortality in individuals with medical conditions such as cancer, heart disease or kidney disease," Christensen said. "We decided to look at this question in terms of a psychiatric population."
Christensen developed the idea for the study along with research team member Rachel A. Dornink, a first-year student at the UI College of Medicine. As a UI undergraduate in psychology, Dornink collected the project data as part of a senior honor thesis which Christensen supervised. Other UI investigators included Susan K. Schultz, M.D., assistant professor of psychiatry, and Shawna L. Ehlers, doctoral student in clinical psychology.
The researchers examined the medical records of 133 patients with schizophrenia who were admitted between 1934 and 1944 to the former Iowa Psychopathic Hospital. All of the patients, 67 men and 66 women, had died by the time the study began. The researchers assessed the quantity and quality of social resources available to the patients, such as the number of close relationships patients had and the quality of support provided by family or friends. The team checked the State of Iowa Death Registry to determine the date and cause of death for each individual. The study's survival rate analysis adjusted for each individual's age at time of admission.