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Biology and Genetics are Irrelevant Once True Causes are Recognized

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Biology and Genetics are Irrelevant Once True Causes are Recognized | Mad In America

Jay Joseph

December 29, 2014

The psychiatric genetics literature contains few references to specific environmental factors that cause psychiatric disorders, and while researchers acknowledge a role for these factors, they usually claim that environmental causes are mysterious or unknown. As a leading group of psychiatric genetic researchers recently put it, while claiming that schizophrenia “has a substantial genetic contribution,” the “underlying causes and pathogenesis of the disorder remains unknown.”1 But research suggests otherwise.

As superbly reviewed by psychologist John Read in the 2013 second edition of Models of Madness: Psychological, Social and Biological Approaches to Psychosis, since the turn of the 21st century many studies have linked schizophrenia and other psychotic conditions to childhood adversities such as having experienced bullying, emotional abuse, incest, neglect, parental loss, physical abuse, or sexual abuse—findings that are well known to clinicians who work with people diagnosed with psychotic disorders.2

Read reviewed research linking schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders to social environments such as poverty, racism, migratory stress, and urbanicity. He concluded, “There is ample evidence that inequality, deprivation and discrimination, filtered through their social and personal meanings, are key causal factors in psychosis.” Psychological processes identified by Read and his colleagues, through which childhood adversities may lead to symptoms of psychosis later in life, include attachment, dissociation, dysfunctional cognitive processes, psychodynamic defenses, problematic coping responses, impaired access to social support, behavioral sensitization, and revictimization.3 A biologically oriented commentator might object that even if these factors play a role in causing schizophrenia and psychosis, only people who are genetically predisposed will develop them, and it is therefore important to understand and study hereditary factors. Aside from the fact that the evidence in support of genetics is weak, a clear understanding of the environmental causes of a condition frequently renders potential genetic factors irrelevant.

For example, 33 miners were trapped underground for 69 days in a copper mine near Copiapó, Chile in 2010. Although the miners were finally rescued and were treated as heroes, and in some cases as celebrities, many subsequently developed severe psychological symptoms caused by their ordeal, such as depression, anxiety, nightmares, and avoidant behavior. Because the causes of these symptoms are obvious and recognized, no one to my knowledge has suggested that the miners have genetically based brain disorders or “chemical imbalances.” It is clear that the miners’ experiences caused their symptoms, and the symptoms of most psychiatric conditions can also be seen in this way.

Adverse childhood and adult experiences and environments play a role comparable to the Copiapó mine experience of the 33 trapped Chilean miners. The main difference is that the causes of psychological distress are more obvious, and therefore more recognized, in the Chilean miners’ case. It could also be argued that several Chilean miners were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a psychiatric diagnosis recognizing that trauma plays a role in causing the symptoms. However, although in the case of PTSD psychiatry chooses to recognize trauma as a causative factor, one could argue that people’s emotional distress and dysfunction, falling into various psychiatric disorder (DSM) categories, are also caused by having experienced trauma and other adverse environmental conditions and events, regardless of any possible role that genetics may play.

* * * * *

(This posting is adapted from a section of Chapter 8 of The Trouble with Twin Studies: A Reassessment of Twin Research in the Social and Behavioral Sciences)

References:

1. Rees, E., O’Donovan, M. C., & Owen, M. J., (2015), Genetics of Schizophrenia, Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, 2, 8-14, p. 8.

2. See the chapters by John Read, in Read, J. & Dillon, J., (Eds.), (2013), Models of Madness: Psychological, Social and Biological Approaches to Psychosis (2nd ed.), London: Routledge.

3. Read, J., Fosse, R., Moscowitz, A., & Perry, B., (2014), The Traumagenic Neurodevelopmental Model of Psychosis Revisited, Neuropsychiatry, 4, 65-79.

Jay Joseph

The Gene Illusion: I bring a critical perspective to claims in the media and the scientific literature that genetic factors underlie psychiatric disorders. My new book, “The Trouble with Twin Studies: A Reassessment of Twin Research in the Social and Behavioral Sciences,” is available from Routledge.
 
SomersetScorpio

SomersetScorpio

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Playing Devil's advocate... ;)

It's quite frustrating when you're seeing a psychiatrist with a label of Borderline Personality Disorder (that I have seen described as a "social illness" rather than a mental illness) and all they want to do is find some dirt from your past to explain why you are the way you are.
Reading a copy of a letter sent to your GP after a meeting that says "nothing is known of (my name)'s early years", as if to imply there must be some kind of messed up events or neglect from my parents, is really quite insulting.

But then again, as I think it's important to remember, we are all made up differently and what is massive trauma to one person can be water off a duck's back to another.
 
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Playing Devil's advocate... ;)

It's quite frustrating when you're seeing a psychiatrist with a label of Borderline Personality Disorder (that I have seen described as a "social illness" rather than a mental illness) and all they want to do is find some dirt from your past to explain why you are the way you are.
Reading a copy of a letter sent to your GP after a meeting that says "nothing is known of (my name)'s early years", as if to imply there must be some kind of messed up events or neglect from my parents, is really quite insulting.

But then again, as I think it's important to remember, we are all made up differently and what is massive trauma to one person can be water off a duck's back to another.
i can understand that must be very frustrating.

i just don't know with this whole nature/nurture debate? i tend to see that varying degrees of everything being involved - biological, psychological, social, spiritual. i think the best approach is whole person centred - integral/holistic.

But i wonder sometimes if biomedical psychiatry is right & the primary aetiology is with a psychopathology of the brain? i read Torrey Fuller's book 'Surviving Schizophrenia' & have read other books that approach mental health from primarily looking at physiology/biology - & some of it can be very compelling. Then i read something from more in depth psychological/social &/or spiritual angles & i find all that compelling as well.

i do lean towards more in depth psychological/spiritual understandings/perspectives - But i may be wrong.

i can't find categorical answers. There is a mystery to it all. i think psychiatry concluded with me that primarily it was drug use/addiction that caused my problems - that i find frustrating as well.

Everyone has different opinions.
 
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