Schizophrenia and the Evolution of the Human Brain — Dr. Elliott Gruen

An experienced psychiatrist, Dr. Elliot Gruen currently practices in Maine. Dr. Elliot Gruen draws on experience with a range of psychiatric conditions, including an in-depth familiarity with schizophrenia and its development. Schizophrenia is a complex mental illness that affects approximately 1 percent of the population. It causes abnormal activity in many different areas of […]

via Schizophrenia and the Evolution of the Human Brain — Dr. Elliott Gruen

Man smoking in the dark

Smoking may Increase Risk of Depression and Schizophrenia: Study

A new study, published in the journal Psychological Medicine, has revealed that smokers may be at greater risk of developing depression and schizophrenia. The study conducted by a team of scientists from the UK’s University of Bristol has re-emphasized that smoking can adversely affect mental health.

Instead of focusing on whether the smokers had a genetic predisposition to depression or schizophrenia, the scientists used genetic data to observe cause-and-effect relationships with smoking. Robyn Wootton, the study’s lead author, said in a statement, “Individuals with mental illness are often overlooked in our efforts to reduce smoking prevalence, leading to health inequalities. Our work shows that we should be making every effort to prevent smoking initiation and encourage smoking cessation because of the consequences to mental health as well as physical health.”

Data from 462,690 people of European ancestry was examined for this study using an approach known as Mendelian randomization. The latter involves identifying genetic variations associated with a trait, such as depression or schizophrenia, and then testing for those variations against an exposure, such as smoking, in a group of subjects. This enables scientists to examine whether this relationship is causal or not.

The scientists concluded that whereas smoking increased the risk of depression and schizophrenia, individuals with depression and schizophrenia are also more liable to smoke. The authors, however, noted that the association was weaker in those with schizophrenia. The team further found that smoking also increases the risk of bipolar disorder, in another Mendelian randomization study published in September 2019. The scientists recommended that psychiatric hospitals be made smoke-free to prevent harmful effects on mental health.

On the other hand, a retired consultant psychiatrist and honorary professor at University College London and Queen Mary University of London, David Curtis, although not involved in the study, interprets its results differently to the authors.

Curtis says he doesn’t think it’s plausible that smoking acts directly on the brain to increase schizophrenia risk, and the results likely show the effect of mothers’ smoking when they were pregnant—a risk factor for schizophrenia. “So what we are likely seeing is that the mothers of people with schizophrenia were at a higher genetic risk of smoking, smoked during pregnancy and thereby increased the risk of schizophrenia developing in their children,” Curtis said in a statement. “And of course they would then also pass on an increased genetic risk of smoking to those children, which is what this study is picking up,” he added.

According to a Lancet Psychiatry Commission report published in July 2019, people with mental illness die up to 20 years earlier than the general population. Another study published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry in January 2018 found that the use of either marijuana or cigarettes is related to a greater risk of psychotic-like experiences in teenagers. Psychosis  is a mental condition characterized by a disconnection from reality causing hallucinations or delusions.

7 (and more) facts about Schizophrenia — Mental health from the other side

Many books, articles and blogs have discussed schizophrenia and often there are differences in terminology. As an ex-mental health nurse/ward manager and someone who has experienced a lengthy psychotic episode, this is my take on schizophrenia. Schizophrenia can be separated into positive and negative symptoms. These are not positive and negative in the way you might […]

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Pica (Disorder)

Pica is a term that refers to cravings for substances that are largely non-nutritive or rather non-foods, such as hair, paper, ice, glue soil, stones, drywall or paint, sharp objects, metal, glass, chalk, etc. The word pica is derived from the Latin word for the bird magpie that feeds on whatever it encounters.

According to the current estimate of the Handbook of Clinical Child Psychology the prevalence rates of pica range from 4% to 26% among institutionalized populations. Pica is more common among children and pregnant women. People with certain mental health conditions such as schizophrenia and obsessive-compulsive disorder may also develop pica as a coping mechanism. It is usually temporary but is often more severe and long-lasting in people with severe developmental disabilities.

There’s no single cause of this eating disorder. In some cases, it may be related to mental retardation or mental illness, while in others, it may be associated with a deficiency in iron, zinc, or another nutrient resulting from malnutrition. Pica has also been found to be associated with decreased activity of the dopamine system in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that aids relaying the transmission of nerve impulses from one neuron to another. Due to this association, some researchers think that there may be a connection between abnormally low levels of dopamine in the brain and the development of pica. However, no specific underlying biochemical disorders have been identified.

The following four criteria have been posited by Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition that must be met to diagnose a person with pica:

1. Person must persist in eating non-nutritive non-foods for at least one month.

2. This eating must be considered abnormal for the person’s stage of development.

3. Eating these substances cannot be associated with a cultural practice that is considered normal in the social context of that person.

4. For people who currently have a medical condition such as pregnancy or a mental disorder like autism spectrum disorder, the action of eating non-nutritive non-foods should only be considered pica if it is dangerous and requires extra medical investigation or treatment on top of what they are already receiving for their pre-existing condition.