Schizophrenia and psychotic symptoms in families of two American Indian tribes

Robert W. Robin, Irving I. Gottesman, Bernard Albaugh, David Goldman

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6 Scopus citations


Background: The risk of schizophrenia is thought to be higher in population isolates that have recently been exposed to major and accelerated cultural change, accompanied by ensuing socio-environmental stressors/triggers, than in dominant, mainstream societies. We investigated the prevalence and phenomenology of schizophrenia in 329 females and 253 males of a Southwestern American Indian tribe, and in 194 females and 137 males of a Plains American Indian tribe. These tribal groups were evaluated as part of a broader program of gene-environment investigations of alcoholism and other psychiatric disorders. Methods: Semi-structured psychiatric interviews were conducted to allow diagnoses utilizing standardized psychiatric diagnostic criteria, and to limit cultural biases. Study participants were recruited from the community on the basis of membership in pedigrees, and not by convenience. After independent raters evaluated the interviews blindly, DSM-III-R diagnoses were assigned by a consensus of experts well-versed in the local cultures. Results: Five of the 582 Southwestern American Indian respondents (prevalence = 8.6 per 1000), and one of the 331 interviewed Plains American Indians (prevalence = 3.02 per 1000) had a lifetime diagnosis of schizophrenia. The lifetime prevalence rates of schizophrenia within these two distinct American Indian tribal groups is consistent with lifetime expectancy rates reported for the general United States population and most isolate and homogeneous populations for which prevalence rates of schizophrenia are available. While we were unable to factor in the potential modifying effect that mortality rates of schizophrenia-suffering tribal members may have had on the overall tribal rates, the incidence of schizophrenia among the living was well within the normative range. Conclusion: The occurrence of schizophrenia among members of these two tribal population groups is consistent with prevalence rates reported for population isolates and in the general population. Vulnerabilities to early onset alcohol and drug use disorders do not lend convincing support to a diathesis-stressor model with these stressors, commonly reported with these tribes. Nearly one-fifth of the respondents reported experiencing psychotic-like symptoms, reaffirming the need to examine sociocultural factors actively before making positive diagnoses of psychosis or schizophrenia.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number30
JournalBMC Psychiatry
StatePublished - Jun 28 2007
Externally publishedYes


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