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.
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(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)
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.
A good, clearly-written article article to add to one’s stock of arguments when confronting apologists for biological psychiatry (which includes all too many people).
Thank you for posting this.
From what I’ve seen in psychiatry I don’t believe there is any such thing as “Schizophrenia”, and that genetic studies like the one below are irrelevant.
I was “care in the community” in Galway, Ireland 1980 -1984. And I have been well since 1984 as a result of rejecting the medical approach for practical psychotherapy.
Had I received practical psychotherapy when I asked for it in 1980, the “problem” would not have existed.
When I was a teenager a person who had been in the battlefield was diagnosed “war neurotic” and everybody understood.
S/he needed therapy, psychoanalysis at that time.
They changed for PTSD. People get confused and what is the treatment? An antidepressant, a mood stabilizer and something else just in the beginning.
There has been a pill that “erases bad memories” advertised I don’t know what happened with this treatment.
The more they make diagnoses confused the better for them.
It is absurd that a psychiatrists change the diagnosis from time to time.
What a great science medicine is following!
A pill for every ill.
Thanks for pointing out the lack of scientific evidence for the supposed “genetics” behind “major mental illnesses,” and their proven relevance to adverse situational circumstances, Jay. If I recall correctly, Read found the correlation of adverse childhood experiences in “schizophrenics” to be close to 85%, is that correct?
I was handed over, and picked up all my family’s medical records. And once one does this, and researches medicine enough to decifer and understand medically what happened, it becomes quite obvious what causes “psychosis.” When one has the adverse withdrawal effects of a “safe smoking cessation med” / antidepressant misdiagnosed, based upon documented lies from child molesters, as “bipolar.” Then is put on an antipsychotic, and suffers their first ever “psychosis” within two weeks (“when the meds will kick in”). Well, it’s quite obvious the antipsychotics cause “psychosis” in those wrongly put on them – which, I’m quite certain is every single person put on antipsychotics to cover up (or avoid dealing with) real life traumatic childhood experiences, or concerns thereof.
My research indicates, and it’s been confessed to me, that the psychiatric industry has been in the business of covering up child abuse since Freud, and prior. I was told this psychiatric industry hobby is the “dirty little secret of the two original educated professions.” I’d really like to see the psychiatric practitioners get out of the business of defaming victims of child abuse with major mental illnesses, and torturing them with tranquilizers and massive toxic drug cocktails. But I have no doubt, the child molesters all know exactly how to cover up their crimes – ship their victims off to the psychiatrists!
“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.”
I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone put it so clearly before — so clear, concise, and virtually beyond any further discussion. Wonderful piece!
Thanks, Eric. I appreciate your comments.
What a great article representing the TRUTH! So few of the average sheep know the truth and when confronted with it, defend psychiatry’s drug pushing, “theory as science” ways. It never ceases to amaze me. But then, it’s much easier to take pills (or push them at your kids) than it is to face facts and endure the pain it takes to heal. Instant gratification for long term suffering.
Thank you for the enlightenment!
The enlightening thing is that the pain itself is not too bad, especially when there’s a good result at the end.
Hello, thanks for this article. While I think it’s important to state that (terminology aside) hearing voices, having odd olfactory sensations, unusual beliefs, etc, most likely isn’t at all due to genes, nor unusual sadness or moodiness, we have to be careful. Psychiatry, as we know, insists that everything is under their umbrella. Dementia is neurological as is autism, and both show up on neuro tests. Yet psychiatry tries to take over. We know post-partum issues come from the body’s hormones. We also know that difficult menstrual issues can be inherited. If it’s a hormone issue then maybe specialists such as gyn folks or women’s specialists should deal with it and not psychiatry. They say alcoholism isn’t a brain problem nor due to “addictive personality” (hogwash, eh?) but a reaction happening in the liver. So shouldn’t liver doctors be treating it and not psychiatrists? In my own field, I notice eating problems are usually inherited. I believe there are multiple causes, mostly physical to do with metabolism, blood sugar, food allergies, swallowing problems, and various childhood illnesses or strep throat. Many people I know who have been suffering from eating problems have diabetes in the family. Psychiatry needs to keep its hands off. Severe eating problems can be induced by forcing a person who already has the genetic makeup by no “disorder” into “treatment.” It’s a complete myth that all people with eating problems are perfectionists or have any particular personality. We are bullied by shrinks to believe this, though. Overall, after over three decades in the MH system I know for sure that diagnosis begets the “symptoms,” or makes them ten times worse.