It was always thought that schizophrenia and bipolar run in the same family. I know this is undoubtedly true because people in my family have SZ and BP.
Now, genetic variants have been found that link schizophrenia and bipolar, so the evidence is clear for a genetic link. Researchers of studies published in Nature Genetics identified 11 genetic regions that play a role in the risk for these mental illnesses. Six of these regions had never been discovered before.
In the SZ study, seven locations on the genome (five of which hadn't been indentified before) were implicated in the illness. Combined with results from the BP study, three gene locations were identified that were involved in both disorders.
Researchers examined the DNA of 7,481 people with bipolar and in another study, a separate team evaluated the same DNA sites in more than 17,000 people with schizophrenia.
The lead author on the bipolar team, Pamela Sklar, and the other members wanted to determine the genetic risk for these illnesses so that professionals could intervene earlier and develop new therapeutic treatments.
The Psychiatric Genome-Wide Association Study Consortium (PGC) reported these findings. The Consortium was formed in 2007 and over 250 researchers from more than 20 countries are involved in investigating the genetic causes of mental illnesses.
In the two studies, several DNA sites (also known as DNA variants) in certain genes were linked with schizophrenia and bipolar.
The goal is to treat these mental illnesses earlier and more effectively in order to improve the quality of life of people diagnosed with them.
Bipolar and schizophrenia have always had a common theme in the form of schizoaffective disorder, a type of SZ with symptoms of a mood disorder, such as mania or depression.
Getting the right treatment right away, and accepting that you need treatment for a mental illness, has always been an elusive goal for a significant number of people. Toss in the stigma, and I can see how someone diagnosed with SZ or BP would be reluctant to continue their journey of recovery, which involves medication with side effects and the perils of disclosing your psychiatric condition to others.
What's the solution?
We need, and it is possible, to normalize the experience of having these illnesses: first, by living true to ourselves and not using a label like schizophrenic to describe who we are. The more we can talk about our ordinary lives apart from our mental illness, the easier it will be (hopefully) for so-called normal people to relate to us as peers.
I would hope that with awareness, via these research findings, that these illnesses are indeed genetic (hence biologically-based brain disorders) the stigma will be reduced so that more people will seek treatment as soon as something goes awry.
Recognizing that you have SZ or BP continues to be the hard part because someone who is psychotic invariably believes his delusions are true, and a person who experiences mania feels too good to want to consider he's been tricked into a mood by his brain.
Upwards of 60 percent of the people diagnosed with SZ and about 50 percent of those diagnosed with BP have anosognosia, a symptom that in plain English is the lack of awareness you have an illness. Even with people who have bipolar, this lack of awareness extends to their inability to recognize symptoms, such as depression or elation. The person might talk about being worn out instead and not realize it's a symptom of an illness.
My memoir, Left of the Dial, will be published by Vantage Point Books in fall 2012 and it is my goal that the book does its part to show that ordinary people develop schizophrenia. It's an account of my former career as a disc jockey on the FM radio and chronicles my life not my symptoms. Indeed, I wanted to normalize the experience of having a defective brain.
To this end, I'd love you to answer the Question of the Month: "What Does Schizophrenia Mean To You?"
Published On: November 12, 2011