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Ethnicity, self reported psychiatric illness, and intake of psychotropic drugs in five ethnic groups in Sweden


STUDY OBJECTIVE This study hypothesises that the presumed increased risk of self reported longstanding psychiatric illness and intake of psychotropic drugs among Iranian, Chilean, Turkish, and Kurdish adults, when these groups are compared with Polish adults, can be explained by living alone, poor acculturation, unemployment, and low sense of coherence.

DESIGN Data from a national sample of immigrants/refugees, who were between the ages of 20–44 years old, upon their arrival in Sweden between 1980 and 1989. Unconditional logistic regression was used in the statistical modelling.


PARTICIPANTS 1059 female and 921 male migrants from Iran, Chile, Turkey, Kurdistan and Poland and a random sample of 3001 Swedes, all between the ages of 27–60 years, were interviewed in 1996 by Statistics Sweden.

MAIN RESULTS Compared with Swedes, all immigrants had an increased risk of self reported longstanding psychiatric illness and for intake of psychotropic drugs, with results for the Kurds being non-significant. Compared with Poles, Iranian and Chilean migrants had an increased risk of psychiatric illness, when seen in relation to a model in which adjustment was made for sex and age. The difference became non-significant for Chileans when marital status was taken into account. After including civil status and knowledge of the Swedish language, the increased risks for intake of psychotropic drugs for Chileans and Iranians disappeared. Living alone, poor knowledge of the Swedish language, non-employment, and low sense of coherence were strong risk factors for self reported longstanding psychiatric illness and for intake of psychotropic drugs. Iranian, Chilean, Turkish and Kurdish immigrants more frequently reported living in segregated neighbourhoods and having a greater desire to leave Sweden than their Polish counterparts.

CONCLUSION Evidence substantiates a strong association between ethnicity and self reported longstanding psychiatric illness, as well as intake of psychotropic drugs. This association is weakened by marital status, acculturation status, employment status, and sense of coherence.

  • ethnicity
  • psychotropic drugs
  • psychiatric illness

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  • Funding: the research was supported by grants from The Council for Health and Health Care Research, Lund/Malmö awarded to Louise Bayard-Burfield, and from the Swedish Medical Research Council (K97–21P-11333–01A) and Axel and Margaret Ax:son Johnson Foundation awarded to Jan Sundquist.

  • Conflicts of interest: none.