It’s a question anyone with any health issues has asked at some point – why me?
When it comes to mental health, the short answer is that there kinda isn’t one. Lots of research has been done over the years to try to determine why people’s brains do what they do, but it seems no conclusions have been reached. Here’s a run-down of the major theories.
- There is a school of thought that supports the idea that mental health issues run in families. There have been many studies that look into the genetic make-up of families that have more than one person with mental illness. Within the general population, occurrence of bipolar is roughly 2-3% of the population; when looking at the offspring of a parent with bipolar the risk rises to 15%. If both parents are bipolar, this goes up again to 50%. [NSW Government Health Facts – Fact Sheet 58]. Twin studies have shown that genetics seems to play a major part in the development of schizophrenia too – there’s a 41% – 65% chance of the occurrence of schizophrenia in a twin who’s sibling has the illness [American Journal of Medical Genetics, Vol 97, Issue 1]. However, Peter R. Breggin states that normally you would expect to see a 100% occurrence in genetically identical twins in order to support a genetic causality.
- Going against the argument for genetics, the nurture argument suggests that one’s upbringing is responsible for mental illness. In families where the children were adopted and had no genetic relation to their adoptive parents, a study saw a correlation between the occurrence of bipolar in both generations. A 40-year study in Finland looked at the nurture causality in-depth, and found that children with a genetic predisposition to developing schizophrenia (that is to say they had the genetic markers identified by studies) saw their risk reduced by up to 86% by a protective family environment. In this study, 36.8% of high-genetic risk adoptees living in a dysfunctional family environment were found to have developed a schizophrenia-spectrum disorder, compared to only 5.8% of those in a healthy family environment.
- Stress has been shown to trigger the illness in those already susceptible to it. High-stress, traumatic situations such as sexual abuse seem to show a link. Jim van Os at the University of Maastricht, the Netherlands, ran a study comparing self-reported childhood trauma and the prevalence of schizophrenia in young Germans. There was a dose-response relationship, that is that as the frequency of traumatic events in childhood increased so did the proneness to developing the illness.