Most clinicians think of autism, attention deficit disorder, bipolar disease, major depression, and schizophrenia as distinctly different mental illnesses even though there are some similarities in terms of symptoms and behaviors. Therapists have learned to distinguish them and to provide very different types of treatment. Recently a new study, published in the journal Lancet
, has revealed findings that report a demonstrable genetic link between all of these disorders.
The methodology used to complete this research was complex, as the researchers looked at over 33,000 psychiatric patients and made comparisons between that group and a group of 28,000 people without mental illness. Using these subjects they compared scans of all DNA doing a genome-wide association study.
The researchers were able to determine that, at a genetic level, all of these diseases are likely to exist on a continuum instead of being, as previously believed, 5 separate conditions. Historically there have been many cross overs with these conditions. In fact, Sigmund Freud at one time described schizophrenia as a group of diseases.
The hope, expressed by Dr. Ken Duckworth, Medical Director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, is that if mental illness can be understood from a genetic standpoint, which highlights the process of the illness, then maybe the stigma around mental illness in general will decrease. The less elusive things are the less afraid people tend to be about them.
This new information may not only help people to understand the origins and processes of certain disorders, but it may also lead to new treatments that can target the physiological mechanisms at play in these illnesses. This can lead to better therapies, both medical and psychological, and can even contribute to earlier diagnoses, which is often a significant determinant in the long-term quality of life for someone suffering with any of these mental health conditions.
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