Posts Tagged ‘mental disorders’

Two studies published in the journals Schizophrenia Research and Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica attribute this association to Toxoplasma gondii – a parasite found in the intestines of cats. Humans can become infected with the parasite by accidentally swallowing it after coming into contact with the animal’s feces.

T. gondii is the cause of a disease known as toxoplasmosis. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 60 million people in the US are infected with the parasite, though the majority of people are not aware of it.

People with a healthy immune system often stave off T. gondii infection, so it does not present any symptoms. However, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems are more susceptible to infection and may experience flu-like symptoms – such as muscle aches and pains and swollen lymph nodes – as a result, while more severe infection may cause blindness and even death.

Previous studies have also linked T. gondii infection to greater risk of mental disorders. In November 2014, for example, Medical News Today reported on a study claiming the parasite is responsible for around a fifth of schizophrenia cases. Now, new research provides further evidence of this association.

T. gondii infection ‘may double schizophrenia risk’

For one study, Dr. Robert H. Yolken, of the Stanley Laboratory of Developmental Neurovirology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, MD, and colleagues assessed the results of two previous studies.

These studies had identified a link between cat ownership in childhood and development of later-life schizophrenia and other mental disorders, comparing them with the results of a 1982 National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) questionnaire.

The NAMI questionnaire – conducted around a decade before any data was published on cat ownership and mental illness – revealed that around 50% of individuals who had a cat as a family pet during childhood were diagnosed with schizophrenia or other mental illnesses later in life, compared with 42% who did not have a cat during childhood.

The questionnaire, the researchers say, produced similar results to those of the two previous studies, suggesting that “cat ownership in childhood is significantly more common in families in which the child later becomes seriously mentally ill.”

“If true,” the authors add, “an explanatory mechanism may be T. gondii. We urge our colleagues to try and replicate these findings to clarify whether childhood cat ownership is truly a risk factor for later schizophrenia.”

In another study, A. L. Sutterland, of the Academic Medical Centre in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and colleagues conducted a meta-analysis of more than 50 studies that established a link between T. gondii and increased risk of schizophrenia.

They found that people infected with T. gondii are at more than double the risk of developing schizophrenia than those not infected with the parasite.

The team also identified a link between T. gondii infection and greater risk of bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and addiction.

“These findings suggest that T. gondii infection is associated with several psychiatric disorders and that in schizophrenia, reactivation of latent T. gondii infection may occur,” note the authors.

The CDC recommend changing a cat’s litter box every day to reduce the risk of T. gondii infection, noting that the parasite does not become infectious until 1-5 days after it has been shed in the animal’s feces.

They also recommend feeding cats only canned or dried commercial foods or well-cooked meats; feeding them raw or undercooked meats can increase the presence of T. gondii in a cat’s feces.

It is important to note that cat feces are not the only source of T. gondii infection. Humans can contract the parasite through consuming undercooked or contaminated meats and by drinking contaminated water.

http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/295012.php


Results imply creative people are 25% more likely to carry genes that raise risk of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. But others argue the evidence is flimsy.

The ancient Greeks were first to make the point. Shakespeare raised the prospect too. But Lord Byron was, perhaps, the most direct of them all: “We of the craft are all crazy,” he told the Countess of Blessington, casting a wary eye over his fellow poets.

The notion of the tortured artist is a stubborn meme. Creativity, it states, is fuelled by the demons that artists wrestle in their darkest hours. The idea is fanciful to many scientists. But a new study claims the link may be well-founded after all, and written into the twisted molecules of our DNA.

In a large study published on Monday, scientists in Iceland report that genetic factors that raise the risk of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are found more often in people in creative professions. Painters, musicians, writers and dancers were, on average, 25% more likely to carry the gene variants than professions the scientists judged to be less creative, among which were farmers, manual labourers and salespeople.

Kari Stefansson, founder and CEO of deCODE, a genetics company based in Reykjavik, said the findings, described in the journal Nature Neuroscience, point to a common biology for some mental disorders and creativity. “To be creative, you have to think differently,” he told the Guardian. “And when we are different, we have a tendency to be labelled strange, crazy and even insane.”

The scientists drew on genetic and medical information from 86,000 Icelanders to find genetic variants that doubled the average risk of schizophrenia, and raised the risk of bipolar disorder by more than a third. When they looked at how common these variants were in members of national arts societies, they found a 17% increase compared with non-members.

The researchers went on to check their findings in large medical databases held in the Netherlands and Sweden. Among these 35,000 people, those deemed to be creative (by profession or through answers to a questionnaire) were nearly 25% more likely to carry the mental disorder variants.

Stefansson believes that scores of genes increase the risk of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. These may alter the ways in which many people think, but in most people do nothing very harmful. But for 1% of the population, genetic factors, life experiences and other influences can culminate in problems, and a diagnosis of mental illness.

“Often, when people are creating something new, they end up straddling between sanity and insanity,” said Stefansson. “I think these results support the old concept of the mad genius. Creativity is a quality that has given us Mozart, Bach, Van Gogh. It’s a quality that is very important for our society. But it comes at a risk to the individual, and 1% of the population pays the price for it.”

Stefansson concedes that his study found only a weak link between the genetic variants for mental illness and creativity. And it is this that other scientists pick up on. The genetic factors that raise the risk of mental problems explained only about 0.25% of the variation in peoples’ artistic ability, the study found. David Cutler, a geneticist at Emory University in Atlanta, puts that number in perspective: “If the distance between me, the least artistic person you are going to meet, and an actual artist is one mile, these variants appear to collectively explain 13 feet of the distance,” he said.

Most of the artist’s creative flair, then, is down to different genetic factors, or to other influences altogether, such as life experiences, that set them on their creative journey.

For Stefansson, even a small overlap between the biology of mental illness and creativity is fascinating. “It means that a lot of the good things we get in life, through creativity, come at a price. It tells me that when it comes to our biology, we have to understand that everything is in some way good and in some way bad,” he said.

But Albert Rothenberg, professor of psychiatry at Harvard University is not convinced. He believes that there is no good evidence for a link between mental illness and creativity. “It’s the romantic notion of the 19th century, that the artist is the struggler, aberrant from society, and wrestling with inner demons,” he said. “But take Van Gogh. He just happened to be mentally ill as well as creative. For me, the reverse is more interesting: creative people are generally not mentally ill, but they use thought processes that are of course creative and different.”

If Van Gogh’s illness was a blessing, the artist certainly failed to see it that way. In one of his last letters, he voiced his dismay at the disorder he fought for so much of his life: “Oh, if I could have worked without this accursed disease – what things I might have done.”

In 2014, Rothernberg published a book, “Flight of Wonder: an investigation of scientific creativity”, in which he interviewed 45 science Nobel laureates about their creative strategies. He found no evidence of mental illness in any of them. He suspects that studies which find links between creativity and mental illness might be picking up on something rather different.

“The problem is that the criteria for being creative is never anything very creative. Belonging to an artistic society, or working in art or literature, does not prove a person is creative. But the fact is that many people who have mental illness do try to work in jobs that have to do with art and literature, not because they are good at it, but because they’re attracted to it. And that can skew the data,” he said. “Nearly all mental hospitals use art therapy, and so when patients come out, many are attracted to artistic positions and artistic pursuits.”

http://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/jun/08/new-study-claims-to-find-genetic-link-between-creativity-and-mental-illness

The world’s oldest psychiatric institution, the Bethlem Royal Hospital outside London, this week opened a new museum and art gallery charting the evolution in the treatment of mental disorders.

The original hospital was founded in 1247 in what is now central London and the name spawned the English word “bedlam” meaning chaos and madness.

In the 18th century visitors could pay to gawk at the hospital’s patients and, three centuries later, stereotypes about mental illness still abound.

“The museum is to do with challenging the stigma around mental health and one of the main ways you can do that is actually get people to walk onto the site and realise that this is not a frightening, threatening and dark place,” Victoria Northwood, head of the Archives and Museum, told AFP.

The bleak period in the history of mental treatment is addressed but not dwelled upon in the museum.

Iron and leather shackles used until the mid-19th century to restrain patients are displayed behind a wall of mirrors so they cannot be seen directly.

A padded cell is deconstructed and supplemented with audio of a patient describing what is was like to be locked inside.

The exhibition is full of interactive exhibits, including a video where the visitor is challenged to decide whether to commit a young woman, in denial about the dangers of her anorexia, to hospital against her will.

The decision is surprisingly difficult and it shows the complexity in diagnosing ailments linked to the brain, which we still know comparatively little.

“We are just getting across that this is not a black and white issue. It is not very easy. Human beings aren’t very easy,” Northwood said.

Art features strongly throughout the space, starting with the imposing 17th century statues “Raving Madness” and “Melancholy Madness” by Caius Gabriel Cibber, which used to stand at the entrance to the Bethlem hospital when it was in central London.

Also included are paintings by current or former patients, like Dan Duggan’s haunting charcoal “Cipher” series of a man’s elongated face—a testament to the 41-year-old’s inner turmoil.

Duggan, who made several suicide attempts and was detained three times under the mental health act including at Bethlem, said art was an instrumental tool in his recovery.

“A lot of the time you spend in hospital, particularly a psychiatric hospital, is very prescribed.

“When you’re engaged in a creative process, you’re able to be free of all of that for a while and the power is back in your hands to do whatever you want to do,” he said.

Visual artist and dancer Liz Atkin grew up in an alcoholic household. She developed dermatillomania or Compulsive Skin Picking from the age of eight as a way to manage the stress.

“I could have ended things in a very different way,” said Atkin, now aged 38.

Atkin received treatment and works with patients at the anxiety unit of Bethlem, which is now located in spacious grounds about one hour south of London.

She said the new museum and gallery is a unique space to encourage healing.

“Making artwork isn’t a complete cure and I personally don’t think that I’m cured, but I think it provides a very powerful outlet for some of those things that are hard to talk about.”

http://medicalxpress.com/news/2015-02-world-oldest-psychiatric-hospital-museum.html