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The extent to which different symptom dimensions vary according to epidemiological factors associated with categorical definitions of first-episode psychosis (FEP) is unknown. We hypothesized that positive psychotic symptoms, including paranoid delusions and depressive symptoms, would be more prominent in more urban environments.
We collected clinical and epidemiological data on 469 people with FEP (ICD-10 F10–F33) in two centres of the Aetiology and Ethnicity in Schizophrenia and Other Psychoses (AESOP) study: Southeast London and Nottinghamshire. We used multilevel regression models to examine neighbourhood-level and between-centre differences in five symptom dimensions (reality distortion, negative symptoms, manic symptoms, depressive symptoms and disorganization) underpinning Schedules for Clinical Assessment in Neuropsychiatry (SCAN) Item Group Checklist (IGC) symptoms. Delusions of persecution and reference, along with other individual IGC symptoms, were inspected for area-level variation.
Reality distortion [estimated effect size (EES) 0.15, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.06–0.24] and depressive symptoms (EES 0.21, 95% CI 0.07–0.34) were elevated in people with FEP living in more urban Southeast London but disorganized symptomatology was lower (EES –0.06, 95% CI –0.10 to –0.02), after controlling for confounders. Delusions of persecution were not associated with increased neighbourhood population density [adjusted odds ratio (aOR) 1.01, 95% CI 0.83–1.23], although an effect was observed for delusions of reference (aOR 1.41, 95% CI 1.12–1.77). Hallucinatory symptoms showed consistent elevation in more densely populated neighbourhoods (aOR 1.32, 95% CI 1.09–1.61).
In people experiencing FEP, elevated levels of reality distortion and depressive symptoms were observed in more urban, densely populated neighbourhoods. No clear association was observed for paranoid delusions; hallucinations were consistently associated with increased population density. These results suggest that urban environments may affect the syndromal presentation of psychotic disorders.
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