Internet musings on genetics and mental illness

One of my email groups had an interesting discussion the other day. I’ve asked two authors of comments in the discussion if I could post their responses to this article on mental illness and genetic predisposition. and the greater publics attitudes about mental illness. I found the discourse interesting enough to reprint here without comment. I’m only marginally blogging right now but this is good stuff to think about. Feel free to continue the discussion. Chances are I’ll be marginally involved but I will certainly read everything and would love to see what your responses are as usual.

Some time ago we had a discussion on the listserv, where some doctors felt psychiatry no longer promotes genetic causes as the primary cause of “mental illness.”  This article claims otherwise.  I believe that psychiatry denigrates the “mentally ill” by proposing that schizophrenia is, for example, a hereditary illness.  I don’t disagree there is a clear genetic connection, but what is inherited is not schizophrenia, but various metabolic deformities (such as pyrrole dysfunction).

By constantly putting out into the public that the “mentally ill” are defective human beings, psychiatry makes them throwaways.  No wonder that psychiatry can cut 12 years off the lifespan of the severely mentally ill over the past 15 years and neither organized psychiatry nor the society as a whole gives more than an apathetic shrug.

If you were to educate the public that the person is not defective but he has defective calcium pathways, magnesium pathways, serotonin metabolism, etc., THEN you have identified the problem and not made the whole person a defect.  Seeing a “crazy” person become normal after diet change, medical treatment, or whatever gives one a shocking realization that these people are the same as all of us.

Most of my life I was told by psychiatrists that my father, diagnosed with schizophrenia, was a defective human being.  When I finally saw his bloodwork worked up the Pfeiffer Treatment Center, and saw what was REALLY defective, it gave me an entirely different view of my father.

Dan Stratford

The second comment:

I think that attributing the root cause of mental illness to genetics perpetuates helplessness in the field of psychiatry and in the patient.  One is born with a certain set of genes, which we currently are taught are not subject to change.

However, nutrition does change genetics, and so does energy medicine.  The rest of the world is not aware that genes are so maleable to external influences (see The Biology of Belief by Bruce Lipton), and a genetic root to mental illness is about as helpful as blaming one’s illness on society/parents (very popular with psychoanalysis).  It leaves many people feeling powerless, and powerlessness leads to apathy.

Dr. Alice Lee-Bloem

In conjunction with the commenting about Bruce Lipton I will link back to a video of his here. Also for a good discussion about the video go to the blog Difficult Thoughts by Marion. Her post is entitled “Why mental illness is neither genetically caused nor genetically predisposed.”

20 thoughts on “Internet musings on genetics and mental illness

  1. I think someone else earlier in your thread may have said something very similar to what I’m going to say, but I’m going to say it anyway, because the blindness of attributing so much mental and emotional “illness” to genetic factors almost makes me start to foam at the mouth. 🙂

    Yes, mental and emotional illness runs in families. And why? Because emotionally and physically abusive parenting is passed from generation to generation. Many, many people are suffering the emotional and psychological fallout from having been parented by emotionally absent, emotionally abusive parents; by codependents, alcoholics, narcissists. It has been conclusively proven that long-term trauma damages the brain. This is NOT a form of “hereditary” mental illness, except insofar as it is inflicted repeatedly, generationally.

    PTSD is a hugely misunderstood phenomenon. It is frequently misdiagnosed as clinical depression, bipolar disorders, and in extreme cases, even as schizophrenia.

    I do think that genetics or internal wiring plays a small part in this, in that people are predisposed to produce and metabolize chemicals differently — and this can be seen in something as simple as the fact that people respond differently to prescription medication. But I don’t think that necessarily translates to mental and emotional illness being “hereditary.” If you think you’re doomed by a genetic bullet, IMO, you’re much less likely to seize the reins of your destiny.

    And I say this after having been diagnosed with severe clinical depression at the age of ten, and misdiagnosed with several other things before I was finally correctly diagnosed with a severe form of dissociative trauma disorder, which I am now working on, successfully, with no drug therapy whatsoever, having voluntarily taken myself off meds five years ago, after being told, repeatedly, that I would be dependent on drugs for the rest of my life because clinical depression clearly runs in my family.

    Sorry, no. Child abuse runs in my family, but it is largely denied and/or ignored.

    It also amazes me that when psychotropics or other drugs don’t work for people, the immediate strategy is to try another drug, or more of the drug, rather than perhaps considering that the patient’s condition is one that does not respond to drugs. This is how we have ended up with so many “psychotropic zombies,” as I think of them. I don’t know whether clinicians just aren’t trained to ask the right questions … of course it’s sometimes hard to tell what’s going on with someone who has repressed memories, or who is simply in complete denial about the truth of his or her life … most people will go to great lengths to avoid admitting a terrible childhood, especially in regard to emotional abuse, which is subtle, and often consists of repeated invalidation of the child, creating an adult who is reluctant to speak about feelings. But my point is that we need a shift in mental health philosophy, to consider that there may be more to a situation than meets the eye, and drugging someone into submission is not the most effective way to heal that person.

    Sorry for the long comment; this is, as you can probably tell, a major hot button for me. 🙂


  2. Ametyst: you’re right on. But they won’t stop as long as they can keep on telling stories about genes and neurotransmitters, and everyone believes in these stories. If the cause is a biological (medical) one, then it’s neglect not to drug (or shock) people out of their mind. Actually, the biological model (and only the biological model) also justifies involuntary “treatment”.


  3. Illness is meant to be transforming, to go through it, learn and come out a more aware person. Doctors medicate and sedate us not to help us, but to cripple us. They keep us locked in such a sedative way that it is impossible for us to explore our inner selves.

    I havn’t really thought much about the cause of mental illness. Some say it is genetic – but what are their standards for saying that. For our relatives who have a diagnosis – what was the criteria for giving them such labels.
    Look at how the diagnosing is done today, so what hope had they got years ago.

    What prognosis do we get from the doctor. A lifetime of being medicated and sedated. If that doesn’t work – maybe a few shots of shock treatment. All this to save us from working on ourselves and unravelling the triggers behind our breakdown. My old doctor did not want me going down the road of counselling – he said it would stress me out. Doctors can only control us with medication.
    Has anyone brought them to court for taking away our quality of life.

    What ever the reason, be it genetically or biologically, we are beautiful human beings. No one has the right to take our right to a full life away from us. The chain between pharmaceuticals companies – psychiatrists and us the unfortunate guinea pigs has to stop.


  4. beautiful, handsome, kind and gentle.. me?!

    why thank you! I’m blushing bright red!

    And you are both very special people!


  5. Mark,
    you posted as I did…
    just want to say as far as faces and TD go…

    Sloopy is a beautiful man whose face is not marred by TD, thank god.

    you are lovely Sloopy, you know!!!

    (I’ve seen him on Skype!!—gosh darned handsome fellow!!)


  6. Thanks so much everyone for all your wonderful comments…

    I hope to begin blogging with original material within the next few days. I actually have been in crisis….

    This particular thread is interesting to me in light of my crisis, because I was having severe “symptoms” that had nothing to do with behavior and certainly felt physical…while remaining lucid and clear to the extent that my holistic doc thought nothing was wrong with me when there was something very wrong with me….

    anyway…I do think that food, diet and nutrition help us (or maybe I should say me—I’ve certainly seen many recover without those aids) and my experience in the last several days FELT physical, suggesting some sort of biochemistrty…NO I AM NOT ADOPTING the chemical theory bullshit…

    but I am saying ALL humans experience is biology…but ultimately extremely maleable biology as I think both Lipton and Matt above speak to clearly…

    anyway…hope to have a real post up soon…
    cheers…and thanks


  7. It is strange how some see psychiatry and the psycho-pharmaceutical industry as the panacea for all of life’s troubles.

    I initially thought that psychiatric drugs would be my saviour too. Now I realise how wrong that was.

    After years of taking psychiatric drugs, I suffer from an irreversible and untreatable brain disease called tardive dyskinesia (T.D.). T.D. is an unpleasant movement disorder caused exclusively by psychiatric drugs.

    Of course, psychiatrists never warned me of the extraordinary health risks involved in taking their drugs. As with Cecilie, I was told they would make me “healthy”. I fell victim to their myth of the “chemical imbalance”.

    Psychiatric drugs are actually very dangerous. On average, they can shorten life expectancy by a decade or more, perhaps even by 25 years in those who take a heavy cocktail.

    The risk of developing T.D., for example, is an astonishing 7% to 10% per annum, and it is a cumulative risk.

    In other words, those who take the drug for six years, will probably get tardive dyskinesia or a similar form of brain damage. Even the ultra-conservative Royal College of Psychiatrists reluctantly admits as much.

    Patients beware!


  8. I was diagnosed and would be seen by gloss society as “mental ill” however I have been able to rectify my own life, and have been stabilized with ONE dose of medication I take once a day. I am socially active, constantly network and have a healthy group of people that is my support network. I blog on wordpress under where I discuss my “mental illness” and my life. However, I look around public transportation and witness what society see’s “rational” people who work 40 hour weeks, with lack of eye contact, posturing and inability to handle and deal with crowded public transportation, who drown out reality with their Blackberry’s, cell phones, and Ipods-which is dis-association and is also a “mental illness.”
    I have begun traveling without my laptop on my lap recently and am really enjoying the ability to sit and watch the 60% of society that needs drug cocktails much stronger than I will ever take-while they are unable to give me eye contact because looking at their PC’s is more important than human contact or even conversation.
    Hence, I have come to a place where I am embracing my mental illness because I have support, love and live healthy, mentally and otherwise.


  9. Marian wrote:
    “…I still sometimes have some trouble accepting, that my own experience for instance is null and void…”

    It’s not: each and every one of us is an expert in our own experiences (which is why psychiatry can never achieve anything, because it believes that it is the only one to be able to tell anyone what their behaviour means). I have found that there is a profound and recognizable logic to even the most superficially bizarre behaviour. Find out what the behaviour is trying to achieve, and it’s relatively easy to change the superficial behaviour.



  10. I’m really sorry, if I got a bit “intense”. I just sometimes get sooo desperate, when I see, that they talk about nothing else but biology, biology and biology, the “experts”. While there actually are quite a lot of people, who have experienced other things than biology to have caused their “mental illness”. I still sometimes have some trouble accepting, that my own experience for instance is null and void…


  11. Sloopy Cowbell: “I guess I accept some biological factor to “mental illness”, since I can follow up (and along) the family tree, tracing that hereditary line and where it took shape.”

    Once again, the usual “argument” for genetical factors to play a certain role. It just doesn’t hold in my eyes – at least not as long as the genetic markers aren’t found. There’s not only genetic heredity. There’s also the non-genetic version of heredity, that is at least as strong as the genetic one. If not stronger, especially when it comes to behaviour. I totally agree with Matthew: “Behaviour is learnt.” Behavioural patterns are passed on from generation to generation through learning. Can’t recall right now where, but I recently read or heard somewhere, that just because your father and grandfather and… etc. voted Labour, and you too do so, does that make voting Labour a genetically caused thing?? Let’s go and find the “voting-Labour-gene”, then! Good luck! (Sorry for the sarcasm!)

    Me too, I can trace a clear hereditary line. But I certainly see it as a non-genetic one. Otherwise, I’d hardly been able to break out of that line – or more like: the vicious circle – of dysfunctional behaviour, passed on from mother to daughter by means of imitation and learning. Throughout at least three generations.

    My knowledge of basic behavioural patterns was limited to what my mother had taught me. Usually, the patterns you learn first, early in life, are the ones which are the toughest to change. No friends, no school teacher, no other relatives can make you change them profoundly. You can only do that yourself. Most people won’t even try, if they believe, it’s all in their genes.

    Dan Stratford’s “solution” wouldn’t change a scrap IMO. If you talk about dopamine or calcium pathways… Where’s the big difference?? It would still be the whole person, that would be regarded as defective. And as completely out of control, unpredictable, potentially dangerous.

    The only thing, that really could change people’s view of “the mentally ill” as being “ticking bombs”, that can “go off” at any time, would be to educate them about the “triggers” in regard to trauma. And it would clearly also be to help people break out of their own vicious circles. Instead of keeping them prisoners of these circles by telling them about defective genes, they can’t do anything about (but take their “meds”…).


  12. Fascinating post, and comments. I guess I accept some biological factor to “mental illness”, since I can follow up (and along) the family tree, tracing that hereditary line and where it took shape. However that is not to discount Dan Stratford’s and Alice Lee-Bloem’s excellent points that a hereditary factor does not preclude a cure or recovery.

    It is a slippery slope to consign people based on their genes to the dustbin of society. That is precisely what Organised Bio-Psychiatry has done to millions of people including me. The psychiatric industry has turned us into outcasts, for its own enrichment. We are the aphids, and they are the ants. Those labelled mentally ill today are the worthless chattels that the low-castes of the Indian Raj were in the 19th century.

    The way Psychiatry behaves today is still Nazi-like, and only one step removed from its former role of social Darwinist. At worst, this was the genocidal eugenics practised in the Nazi death camps. Hell holes where the “feeble minded” were gassed by the thousand. That is the fascist history of “modern” Bio-Psychiatry that the shrink of today would sooner his patients never knew.

    I like Matthew’s characterisation of the apartheid society. As someone labelled as “schizophrenic” nearly two decades ago, I am very much a member (and victim) of that society.

    I was discussing the destructive stigma the other day, and how that stigma has meant that I can no longer get dental treatment.

    I signed up to one dentist. I like to be honest, so I explained my “history”, if only to forewarn of any possible pharmacological contra-indications. The dentist immediately decided that I was “a problem patient”. She told me that I would “have to be treated elsewhere, under general anaesthetic and in a hospital setting”. I later learned that the dentist was asked to leave the practice for assaulting her patients.. Fancy that!

    When I visted another dentist – working at a so-called NHS dental access clinic for emergency treatment – he gave me a massive injection to ensure I wasn’t “a problem” to him. I calculated it was about 50 times the appropriate strength. I was sick for days. That’s not medicine.

    Clinicians in normally reputable branches of medicine – like Dentistry – I find are more susceptible to the propaganda spewed by their corrupt cousins in Psychiatry. I guess because most medics are deluded by their science, and assume that Psychiatry too must be reputable. Afraid not.


  13. I have a big problem with the idea that one cannot impact mental illnesses, because they are hereditary. I have a problem with this, because the mentally ill are, by and large, “less” than everybody else. One is thus condemned to exist in an apartheid society, for the rest of one’s life, with all the stigma and prejudice that is attached to the concept of “mental illness,” in the common perception (a perception created by “experts,” it should be noted).

    People are designated as mentally ill owing to certain behaviours that they exhibit. Nothing more (if you can’t accept this, go and read DSM-IV, where the diagnostic criteria are nothing but behaviours). They react in certain ways to certain stimuli, whether we’re talking about their thought processes, and/or their thought processes in conjunction with physical actions. Behaviour is learnt, and thus may be unlearnt, and learnt anew. Our nervous systems, including our brains, are not fixed at birth – they’re malleable, and always changing, if we choose to recognize that.

    The evidence of this is in the success of talking therapies, where talk is merely a manifestation of thought: show a person an alternative behaviour that is more efficient (ie, easier to do, and possibly more socially acceptable), and that person will accept it readily, as long as the new behaviour accomplishes everything that the old behaviour was trying to achieve.

    Take this, as an example: somebody fires a hurtful remark at one. But one chooses not to be hurt, and instead laughs heartily and congratulates the person on their wit. NLP calls it “reframing”. We can choose any behaviour that we like, in any given situation. It is when we become wed to a behaviour that causes ultimate discomfort that we have the problem.



  14. I guess we all have our tools to fight this. My family as an example just showed me how I didn’t want to be. I’m not saying that I was perfect about it, as powerlessness did probably sneak in, but I could not let myself turn out as angry and maladjusted as them.


  15. I have no problem disagreeing, but what you find absurd is my reality…

    I experienced the diagnosis the way the quote you cut and pasted. I also know lots of people who deeply share my experience.


  16. I disagree, but I am not exactly a student of such studies.

    “It [the genetic tie/label] leaves many people feeling powerless, and powerlessness leads to apathy.”

    I feel like that is absurd. I read any number of blogs of people who are mentally ill just like their parent(s) and they use that connection at a starting point to leap beyond the ramifications of mental illness as best they can.

    I know how my mother, grandfather, and great grandfather were. I know what I am up against and know how I do not want to turn out. I find that knowledge empowering to do better. I have mental illness genetically, but it does not have me.


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