Genetics and Mental Illnesses Essay

This essay has a total of 1730 words and 8 pages.

Genetics and Mental Illnesses



Discoveries in genetics have helped change the way society looks at mental illnesses such
as manic depression and schizophrenia. A generation ago, the leading theory about
schizophrenia was that this devastating emotional and mental disorder was caused by cold
and distant mothering, itself the result of the mother's unconscious wish that her child
had never been born. A nation-wide lobbying effort was launched to combat such unfounded
mother blaming, and 20 years later that artifact of the Freudian era is entirely
discredited. It's widely accepted today that psychotic disorders are brain disorders,
probably with genetic roots (Herbert 72).

Just like every other topic in the genetics debates there are a few sides to the debate on
the causes of mental disorders. One side feels mental illnesses are caused purely by
genetic inheritance and another feels they are caused by environmental factors. A
different side feels that it is a combination of the two.

The problem is that most people take a side that supports either genetics or environment
when most cases are not only genetic, but also environment. Take this situation for
example. I have a thirteen year old friend who has been depressed a lot for the past few
months, maybe even a year. Her mother recently decided to get her screened for
depression. Well, they decided that she has a "chemical imbalance" in her brain that
causes her to be depressed. In other words, she's depressed because genetically she's
abnormal and that abnormality keeps her brain from making a certain chemical she needs to
keep from being depressed. The thing is that's not the only reason she's depressed.
She's not very happy at home. Her parents won't let her do anything, which includes
seeing her friends outside of school most of the time. They made her work all summer in
her stepfather's shop and almost didn't let her quit when school started. She's only
allowed one phone call a day and it is limited to five to ten minutes.

Now, as far as I am concerned, that is reason to be depressed. With circumstances like
this, maybe her depression isn't all just the chemical imbalance caused by her genes, and
maybe it has something to do with her environment. This situation illustrates the idea
that mental illnesses are not only genetic, but are also environmentally caused. As
Leonard Darwin says in "The Need for Eugenic Reform", "In studying cases of insanity both
factors must always be taken into account, and the only logical course to adopt is to
entirely discard all such phrases as due to heredity and due to environment."

This does not mean that genetics does not sometimes cause the depression. For example,
David Rosenthal summarized dozens of studies reporting that schizophrenia, a mental
illness, clusters in families; that is, relatives of a schizophrenic are considerably more
likely to become schizophrenic than are people without schizophrenic relatives" (Stark
134). David G. Myers says at one point, "Some people more than others seem genetically
predisposed to particular fears and high anxiety. Identical twins often develop similar
phobias, in some cases even when raised separately" (Myers 464).

Many studies have been done on the subject of twins who develop the same mental illnesses.
In one study it was found that "one pair of 35-year old identical female twins
independently developed claustrophobia" (Myers 464). Years of studies of families,
adopted children, and twins separated at birth, suggest that both schizophrenia and
manic-depressive illness run in families" (Herbert 77). These problems become more
prominent in instances where the afflicted person is an identical twin (Myers 464). This
means that the closer you are genetically, the more likely you are to be schizophrenic
also. The risk of having the gene is 10-15% if you have an affected sibling, but only
2-3% if your parent is the afflicted relative (Wilson). It has been proven that "the
1-in-100 odds of any person's being diagnosed with schizophrenia become 1 in 10 among
those with an afflicted sibling or parent, and close to 1 in 2 among those who have an
afflicted twin (Myers 478). This is true "whether the twins are reared together or
apart" (Myers 478). Thus it is obvious that genetics must play some part in the causing
of some mental disorders.

A study of an Amish community was undertaken by Medical Sociologist Janice Egeland. "In
this community of quiet-spoken humble pacifists, such behavior stands out against the
social landscape" (Wallis 67). The report that was published in Nature confirmed the link
between manic depression and the "human chromosome 11." "'This is the first demonstration
of a possible genetic basis for one of the major mental disorders,' says Dr. Darrel
Regier, director of the division of clinical research at the National Institute of Mental
Health (NIMH). 'The study ushers in a new era of psychiatric research'" (Wallis 67).
Unfortunately these recent discoveries do nothing to make diagnosis specific enough in
genetic counseling. In other words, it is still not possible to determine whether or not
a person will definitely have the mental illness (Wilson).

Many people feel about mental illnesses being caused by genetics the way they did when
Christopher Columbus first came up with the idea that the world was round. In other words
they feel the old way of looking at mental illnesses, which is that they are caused by the
environment of the person is the right answer and all other answers are nonsense. "'The
major problem [in this research area] is all the non-replications,' says Elliot Gershon of
the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in Bethesda, Maryland. 'The question is
why?'" (Barnes 314). What he means is that even though two people have the same
environment and one becomes schizophrenic, too often the other person doesn't. This makes
it hard to prove that mental illnesses are entirely environmental. If mental illnesses
were purely environmental wouldn't everyone who lives in the same type of environment have
schizophrenia? This shows the inability to prove environmental causes of mental
illnesses so far.

Many anti-genetic cause believers feel the non-replications are because genetics do not
have anything to do with the causes of mental illnesses. Miron Baron, of Columbia
University College of Physicians says, "There are now a number of studies in the
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