Stalking Irish Madness
Kara Rota follows Patrick Tracey on his genealogical exploration of schizophrenia in Ireland.
I'm not surprised by his mentions of famine and alcoholism, but the late age of paternity factor is one I haven't heard before. Tracey explains, "You couldn't get married, you didn't become eligible until you hit about fifty and inherited the family farm. So there were a lot of copy errors in the sperm of old men. The science is a bit boring, but I'll just give you a little bit. Men's sperm cells copy every sixteen days and they replicate. By the time we're fifty there's a lot of what are called 'copy errors.' It's just that, just what it sounds like. There are errors that are made in the DNA of the cells that get copied. There's more than twice the rate of schizophrenia in children born of fathers for every ten-year jump in the age of paternity. So really, the lesson is that men should be having children at a young age if you want to reduce risk.
"The other thing that's well known is the link between famine and schizophrenia. That also doubles the risk. And in people who were born of mothers who carried them through a famine, the risk of schizophrenia is nearly triple." Much of Tracey's theory comes from the Dutch hunger studies done in Rotterdam during World War Two. "They have found much higher rates of addiction, schizophrenia and manic depression among children who were carried through that famine. They tracked them for decades. These are solid gold studies. They don't really say too much about the experience of the Dutch, but if you take that set of data and apply it like a grid to Ireland, it's a no-brainer...it simplifies everything."
While treatment of schizophrenia in America still largely focuses on antipsychotics and other pharmaceuticals, "we're actually behind now," says Tracey.
While in Ireland, Tracey encountered the Hearing Voices Network (HVN), which holds meetings that consist of "likeminded voice-hearers helping each other out-they're just taking basically the drug and alcohol recovery model, twelve-step recovery."
The HVN is based on the concept of allowing schizophrenics to acknowledge and eventually learn to control their voices. "They are finding that a cure for schizophrenia is really not in the cards. What is in the cards is recovering, on a daily basis, from the worst of their voices. It turns out that mental health for [schizophrenics] is really no different from mental health for us. We all have our voices. My voices might be telling me, 'Oh, I'm going to be nervous in this interview and I'm going to say something and slip up and I won't sound good and smart'-and that's my first-person voice. My sisters have third-person voices; they come from outside their heads. But they can control their voices in the way that we need to control the better ranges of our nature and just try to be positive. They can tap into their positive voices. When doctors tell them that their voices are bollocks, that their voices don't exist, it completely invalidates their experience. They've got nowhere to go. This is why the Hearing Voices Network will be the biggest thing there is in schizophrenia. And it already is in Europe... It's undeniable. The proof is not measured in gene variants that have been replicated in twin studies in other countries and stuff. Science likes that, they like hard empirical evidence. But the proof is in the pudding. You talk to these people and they're dealing with life, they're recovered. But they have to tend to themselves like a garden every day."
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