Background: Numerous studies have reported high rates of psychosis in the Black Caribbean population in the UK. Recent speculation about the reasons for these high rates has focused on social factors. However, there have been few empirical studies. We sought to compare the prevalence of specific indicators of social disadvantage and isolation, and variations by ethnicity, in subjects with a first episode of psychosis and a series of healthy controls.
Method: All cases with a first episode of psychosis who made contact with psychiatric services in defined catchment areas in London and Nottingham, UK and a series of community controls were recruited over a 3-year period. Data relating to clinical and social variables were collected from cases and controls.
Results: On all indicators, cases were more socially disadvantaged and isolated than controls, after controlling for potential confounders. These associations held when the sample was restricted to those with an affective diagnosis and to those with a short prodrome and short duration of untreated psychosis. There was a clear linear relationship between concentrated disadvantage and odds of psychosis. Similar patterns were evident in the two main ethnic groups, White British and Black Caribbean. However, indicators of social disadvantage and isolation were more common in Black Caribbean subjects than White British subjects.
Conclusions: We found strong associations between indicators of disadvantage and psychosis. If these variables index exposure to factors that increase risk of psychosis, their greater prevalence in the Black Caribbean population may contribute to the reported high rates of psychosis in this population.