There’s a fascinating take on schizophrenia in the Wilson Quarterly that upends the strictly genetic model. New thinking on severe mental illness contends it’s much more complex and the simple biomedical approach is a road that’s reached a dead end. Thankfully, earlier and more damaging theories have been thrust aside. For instance, the psychoanalytical theory that blamed the schizophrenogenic mother for her child’s mental illness, which left a lot of collateral damage in its wake, is now viewed as garbage. New thinking emerged in the 1990s that concluded it’s all in the genes. But researchers are finding it’s not that simple. The trauma that happens to an individual has a large impact on on the strength of the mind and its vulnerabilities. Mental health and mental illness are a combination of not only mind and body but social experience.
As author Tanya Marie Luhrmann, PhD, explains:
In his Second Discourse (1754), Jean Jacques Rousseau describes human beings as made up out of each other through their interactions, their shared language, their intense responsiveness. “The social man, always outside of himself, knows only how to live in the opinions of others; and it is, so to speak, from their judgment alone that he draws the sentiment of his own existence.” We are deeply social creatures. Our bodies constrain us, but our social interactions make us who we are. The new more socially complex approach to human suffering simply takes that fact seriously again.
The epidemiological data in the article on migrants is eye-opening:
Epidemiologists have now homed in on a series of factors that increase the risk of developing schizophrenia, including being migrant, being male, living in an urban environment, and being born poor. One of the more disconcerting findings is that if you have dark skin, your risk of falling victim to schizophrenia increases as your neighborhood whitens.
After reading this article, it feels as though we’re finally on to something big — fresh thinking, new treatments and hope:
All this—the disenchantment with the new-generation antipsychotics, the failure to find a clear genetic cause, the discovery of social causation in schizophrenia, the increasing dismay at the comparatively poor outcomes from treatment in our own health care system—has produced a backlash against the simple biomedical approach. Increasingly, treatment for schizophrenia presumes that something social is involved in its cause and ought to be involved in its cure.