Urbanicity, social adversity and psychosis

Andreas Heinz*, Lorenz Deserno, Ulrich Reininghaus

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


In recent years, there has been increasing interest in research on geographical variation in the incidence of schizophrenia and other psychoses. In this paper, we review the evidence on variation in incidence of schizophrenia and other psychoses in terms of place, as well as the individual- and area-level factors that account for this variation. We further review findings on potential mechanisms that link adverse urban environment and psychosis. There is evidence from earlier and more recent studies that urbanicity is associated with an increased incidence of schizophrenia and non-affective psychosis. In addition, considerable variation in incidence across neighbourhoods has been observed for these disorders. Findings suggest it is unlikely that social drift alone can fully account for geographical variation in incidence. Evidence further suggests that the impact of adverse social contexts - indexed by area-level exposures such as population density, social fragmentation and deprivation - on risk of psychosis is explained (confounding) or modified (interaction) by environmental exposures at the individual level (i.e., cannabis use, social adversity, exclusion and discrimination). On a neurobiological level, several studies suggest a close link between social adversity, isolation and stress on the one hand, and monoamine dysfunction on the other, which resembles findings in schizophrenia patients. However, studies directly assessing correlations between urban stress or discrimination and neurobiological alterations in schizophrenia are lacking to date. World Psychiatric Association.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)187-197
JournalWorld Psychiatry
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2013


  • Urbanicity
  • social adversity
  • psychosis
  • schizophrenia
  • social fragmentation
  • isolation
  • discrimination
  • stress

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