CTA 1 Article - The be ginnings of me nta l illne ss...

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1/16/2014 The beginnings of mental illness http://www.apa.org/print-this.aspx 1/3 The beginnings of mental illness Autism, schizophrenia and other disorders may have roots in life's earliest stages. By Kirsten Weir February 2012, Vol 43, No. 2 Print version: page 36 SCIENCE WATCH Where does mental illness begin? New research suggests the seeds of psychological problems are planted well before birth. Schizophrenia (/topics/schiz/index.aspx) , for example, is often thought of as a genetic disorder. But environmental factors can also boost risk – sometimes considerably. Alan Brown, MD, MPH, a professor of psychiatry and epidemiology at Columbia University and the New York State Psychiatric Institute, has found that a variety of early­life events significantly increase schizophrenia risk ( Progress in Neurobiology , 2011). The risk is three times greater in people whose mothers had the flu during pregnancy, for example, while maternal iron deficiency during pregnancy increases the offspring's risk of the disease fourfold. "These aren't small effects," Brown says. Schizophrenia isn't the only mental illness linked to prenatal events. Using data from a Dutch birth cohort, Brown found that people whose mothers were undernourished while pregnant had a significantly increased risk of major affective disorders, such as mania and depression (/topics/depress/index.aspx) , severe enough to require hospitalization ( American Journal of Psychiatry , 2000). Other researchers have shown that adverse events during pregnancy, including infections, toxin exposure and maternal stress, can boost the fetus's future risk of problems such as depression, anxiety (/topics/anxiety/index.aspx) , autism (/topics/autism/index.aspx) , mood disorders and attention­deficit hyperactivity disorder. Events in early childhood are also linked to persistent mental health problems. Childhood maltreatment, for example, increases the odds of developing depression or post­traumatic stress disorder in adulthood. Now, researchers are finally beginning to understand the biological processes that underlie these links—findings that could point to new directions in treatment for mental illness and behavior disorders, and may even suggest routes to prevention. Something as simple as good prenatal care—from flu shots to proper nutrition—may help to prevent the biological chain reactions that underlie many psychological problems.
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