We who do not believe in mental illness as pathological disease continue to have our work cut out for us. In a blog with the tantalizing title Family Dysfunction and Mental Illness, psychiatrist Dr. David Allen believes that there is something called “true bipolar” which does not arise from childhood trauma because it is “genetic.” Dr. Allen also asserts that “psychosis is never a normal variant of anything.”
Note: Since no gene has been discovered for schizophrenia or bipolar we can take any “proof” of a genetic link as hearsay. Epigenetics, on the other hand, is the study of inherited changes in gene appearance that do not change the underlying DNA sequence. These changes can come from the environment, can last for the life of the cell and express themselves over generations. So, if one of your grandparents went on wild spending sprees, had multiple sexual partners and/or was down in the dumps a lot, there is a chance that this behavior is established currency in the generations that followed whether you like it or not. Your genetic coding looks like the culprit, but so far it it not.
Dr. Allen writes: We know that true bipolar disorder is a real brain disease that has a significant genetic component. Earlier studies indicated that if you have a bipolar parent, your odds of developing the disorder are 5 to 10 times higher than the general population. Since the prevalence in the general population is about 1 percent, that means you have a five to ten percent chance of developing the disorder yourself. True bipolar disorder usually manifests itself in the late teens or early 20’s, most frequently with a depressive rather than a manic episode.
Further on in the same blog he writes: “Some 12 year olds actually do have mania and are psychotic, but they are extremely rare” and in the comments to one of his earlier posts, “With schizophrenia, however, I do not think that the evidence that the condition is due to to trauma or abuse is particularly strong. There is a lot of evidence now being developed that there are marked changes in the neural networks of the frontal lobes in schizophenia that are well outside the bounds of normal neural plasticity.
Admittedly, we still have not pinpointed the exact nature of the brain pathology in schizophrenia, nor have we found out what causes it. In the past, patients with true bipolar were often misdiagnosed as schizophrenic, so some of the people who “got better” may have been misdiagnosed in the first place.
Dr. Allen believes that family trauma does not contribute to schizophrenia or true bipolar. These are always “special cases.” Dr. Allen is expressing opinion, not hard science, because science isn’t there yet. Patients operating under a doctor’s belief system are probably under the impression that his advice is science. They are doomed from a treatment point of view because their doctor believes that they are intrinsically a separate species. The rest of you might be helped, but, despite the fact that the blog links family problems to mental illness, “schizophrenia and true bipolar” mysteriously are not the results of your birth environment. Psychiatrists who believe that schizophrenia and bipolar are true brain diseases will not give their clients the kind of help they deserve. I’ll let Dr. Allen have the final word here.
After dealing for over 30 years with what I consider to be the extreme case of normal reactions to abnormal situations – borderline personality disorder – and with schizophrenia, I remain convinced that schizophrenia is a true brain disease.. . . Just for other readers, claims of 75-85% recovery rates for schizophrenia from non-traditional medicine are pure snake oil. I hate to see people given false help through outrageous claims. True psychosis is never a normal variant of anything. And I never tell people that they have a chemical imbalance, because that is truly a meaningless phrase.