Identifying social, environmental, and genetic mechanisms linking the urban environment to the emergence of psychotic phenomena during adolescence
Psychotic disorders are twice as common among adults raised in cities versus the countryside. Given that 70% of the world’s population will live in urban settings by 2050, it is essential that we uncover the mechanisms linking the urban environment to psychosis in order to develop preventative interventions and inform urban planning. My doctoral research demonstrated that subclinical psychotic experiences (e.g., hearing voices and extreme paranoia) are also around twice as common among children and adolescents raised in urban versus rural settings. These early experiences are a developmental risk factor for adult psychosis and are therefore a useful marker in the general population to investigate the pathways between cities and psychosis. My doctoral research further showed that neighbourhood social factors including high crime and low social cohesion explained up to 50% of the association between urban upbringing and early psychotic experiences.
However, very little is known about the potential role air pollution in psychotic experiences, despite air pollution being a major environmental health problem worldwide and especially in cities. This project will use data from a longitudinal cohort of 2,232 UK-born adolescents to explore the combined roles of air pollution and neighbourhood social factors in the emergence of psychotic experiences during adolescence. In addition, this project will use polygenic risk scores for schizophrenia to examine whether associations between urban exposures and adolescent psychotic experiences are confounded by genes.