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War and conflict are known to adversely affect mental health, although their effects on risk symptoms for psychosis development in youth in various parts of the world are unclear. The Rwandan genocide of 1994 and Civil War had widespread effects on the population. Despite this, there has been no significant research on psychosis risk in Rwanda. Our goal in the present study was to investigate the potential effects of genocide and war in two ways: by comparing Rwandan youth born before and after the genocide; and by comparing Rwandan and Kenyan adolescents of similar age.
A total of 2255 Rwandan students and 2800 Kenyan students were administered the Washington Early Recognition Center Affectivity and Psychosis (WERCAP) Screen. Prevalence, frequency and functional impairment related to affective and psychosis-risk symptoms were compared across groups using univariate and multivariate statistics.
Rwandan students born before the end of the genocide and war in 1994 experienced higher psychotic and affective symptom load (p’s < 0.001) with more functional impairment compared with younger Rwandans. 5.35% of older Rwandan students met threshold for clinical high-risk of psychosis by the WERCAP Screen compared with 3.19% of younger Rwandans (χ2 = 5.36; p = 0.02). Symptom severity comparisons showed significant (p < 0.001) group effects between Rwandan and Kenyan secondary school students on affective and psychotic symptom domains with Rwandans having higher symptom burden compared with Kenyans. Rwandan female students also had higher rates of psychotic symptoms compared with their male counterparts – a unique finding not observed in the Kenyan sample.
These results suggest extreme conflict and disruption to country from genocide and war can influence the presence and severity of psychopathology in youth decades after initial traumatic events.
Cognition is increasingly being recognized as an important aspect of psychotic disorders and a key contributor to functional outcome. In the past, comparative studies have been performed in schizophrenia and schizo-affective disorder with regard to cognitive performance, but the results have been mixed and the cognitive measures used have not always assessed the cognitive deficits found to be specific to psychosis. A set of optimized cognitive paradigms designed by the Cognitive Neuroscience Test Reliability and Clinical Applications for Schizophrenia (CNTRACS) Consortium to assess deficits specific to schizophrenia was used to measure cognition in a large group of individuals with schizophrenia and schizo-affective disorder.
A total of 519 participants (188 with schizophrenia, 63 with schizo-affective disorder and 268 controls) were administered three cognitive paradigms assessing the domains of goal maintenance in working memory, relational encoding and retrieval in episodic memory and visual integration.
Across the three domains, the results showed no major quantitative differences between patient groups, with both groups uniformly performing worse than healthy subjects.
The findings of this study suggests that, with regard to deficits in cognition, considered a major aspect of psychotic disorder, schizophrenia and schizo-affective disorder do not demonstrate major significant distinctions. These results have important implications for our understanding of the nosological structure of major psychopathology, providing evidence consistent with the hypothesis that there is no natural distinction between cognitive functioning in schizophrenia and schizo-affective disorder.
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