Association of Urbanicity With Psychosis in Low- and Middle-Income Countries

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Urban residence is one of the most well-established risk factors for psychotic disorder, but most evidence comes from a small group of high-income countries.


To determine whether urban living is associated with greater odds for psychosis in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).

Design, Setting, and Participants

This international population-based study used cross-sectional survey data collected as part of the World Health Organization (WHO) World Health Survey from May 2, 2002, through December 31, 2004. Participants included nationally representative general population probability samples of adults (≥18 years) residing in 42 LMICs (N = 215 682). Data were analyzed from November 20 through December 5, 2017.


Urban vs nonurban residence, determined by the WHO based on national data.

Main Outcomes and Measures

Psychotic experiences, assessed using the WHO Composite International Diagnostic Interview psychosis screen, and self-reported lifetime history of a diagnosis of a psychotic disorder.


Among the 215 682 participants (50.8% women and 49.2% men; mean [SD] age, 37.9 [15.7] years), urban residence was not associated with psychotic experiences (odds ratio [OR], 0.99; 95% CI, 0.89-1.11) or psychotic disorder (OR, 0.89; 95% CI, 0.76-1.06). Results of all pooled analyses and meta-analyses of within-country effects approached a null effect, with an overall OR of 0.97 (95% CI, 0.87-1.07), OR for low-income countries of 0.98 (95% CI, 0.82-1.15), and OR for middle-income countries of 0.96 (95% CI, 0.84-1.09) for psychotic experiences and an overall OR of 0.92 (95% CI, 0.73-1.16), OR for low-income countries of 0.92 (95% CI, 0.66-1.27), and OR for middle-income countries of 0.92 (95% CI, 0.67-1.27) for psychotic disorder.

Conclusions and Relevance

Our results provide evidence that urbanicity, a well-established risk factor for psychosis, may not be associated with elevated odds for psychosis in developing countries. This finding may provide better understanding of the mechanisms by which urban living may contribute to psychosis risk in high-income countries, because urban-rural patterns of cannabis use, racial discrimination, and socioeconomic disparities may vary between developing and developed nations.

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