Go to content

Lost in translation? Deciphering the role of language differences in the excess risk of psychosis among migrant groups


Background — Migration is a well-established risk factor for psychotic disorders, and migrant language has been proposed as a novel factor that may improve our understanding of this relationship. Our objective was to explore the association between indicators of linguistic distance and the risk of psychotic disorders among first-generation migrant groups.

Methods — Using linked health administrative data, we constructed a retrospective cohort of first-generation migrants to Ontario over a 20-year period (1992-2011). Linguistic distance of the first language was categorized using several approaches, including language family classifications, estimated acquisition time, syntax-based distance scores, and lexical-based distance scores. Incident cases of non-affective psychotic disorder were identified over a 5- to 25-year period. We used Poisson regression to estimate incidence rate ratios (IRR) for each language variable, after adjustment for knowledge of English at arrival and other factors.

Results — Our cohort included 1 863 803 first-generation migrants. Migrants whose first language was in a different language family than English had higher rates of psychotic disorders (IRR = 1.08, 95% CI 1.01-1.16), relative to those whose first language was English. Similarly, migrants in the highest quintile of linguistic distance based on lexical similarity had an elevated risk of psychotic disorder (IRR = 1.15, 95% CI 1.06-1.24). Adjustment for knowledge of English at arrival had minimal effect on observed estimates.

Conclusion — We found some evidence that linguistic factors that impair comprehension may play a role in the excess risk of psychosis among migrant groups; however, the magnitude of effect is small and unlikely to fully explain the elevated rates of psychotic disorder across migrant groups.



Anderson KK, Khan JA, Edwards J, Le B, Longobardi G, Witt I, Alonso-Sánchez MF, Palaniyappan L. Psychol Med. 2024; May 22 [Epub ahead of print].

View Source

Contributing ICES Scientists

Associated Sites