Robert Whitaker has a blog post today on a research finding* published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.
In this NIMH-funded study, researchers reported that male neonates born to mothers diagnosed and treated for schizophrenia were found to have “several larger than normal brain volumes.” The researchers concluded that this was evidence that “prenatal and early neonatal brain development is abnormal in males at genetic risk for schizophrenia.“
In other words, researchers saw this abnormality as evidence of a “schizophrenic” process already underway in the male neonates. But the mothers diagnosed with schizophrenia in this study were taking antipsychotics, which are known to cause changes in brain volumes. Thus, it may be that the abnormalities seen in the brains of the male neonates were due to the drugs, rather than to any underlying genetic risk for schizophrenia.
The female neonates born to mothers diagnosed with schizophrenia did not have “larger than normal brain volumes,” which of course leads to further doubt about any conclusions that can be drawn from this study.
I am in full agreement with Whitaker’s conclusions questioning whether the drugs are responsible for the observed results and why this affects only males and I will go further. It’s not a good idea for the results of these kinds of studies to fall into the hands of someone like me. First of all, I’m a parent who has never gone to medical school, and why am I subjected to stupid words like “male neonate” when I guess what we are really talking about here are male babies, not male monkeys. Bullshit factor number 1. It sounds impressive and potentially scares the hell out of your non-medical school graduate. Your psychiatrist will trot this kind of medical vocabulary to keep you in line.
Bullshit factor number 2 to the medically uneducated is the “larger than normal brain volumes.” Well, that sounds scary in this context because the research is signaling alarm, but come on, shouldn’t larger than normal brain volume be preferable to “smaller than normal brain volume?” Where is the actual problem here? Bigger volume, more room to think and make connections? Right? Who says it’s wrong? Bullshit factor number 3 is that the NIMH funded this study. The NIMH is strenuously looking into the magic bullet solution for schizophrenia and other serious mental health problems. It pays lip service to complementary and alternative mental health solutions. Bullshit factor number 4 is that so far, there is no identified gene for schizophrenia, so to my medically uneducated brain, there is no established genetic risk for schizophrenia. If my mother suffered from a mental health problem, no doubt I would have psychological problems myself from interacting with her (see my blog portrait) but don’t try to pin genetics on this. Try blaming the environment instead.
Unfortunately, these kind of research findings find their way into the public consciousness and are of no help to anyone actually wanting to recover from their diagnosis.
J. Gilmore. “Prenatal and neonatal brain structure and white matter maturation in children at high risk for schizophrenia.” American Journal of Psychiatry, published in advance online, June 1,2010.