I found this story on-line, and it might explain a few things about some of the people I have known: Newsweek 1/26/98 story Lifestyle/Special Report: Is Everybody Crazy?
With the development of brain scanning technology and genetic analysis, some researchers are arguing that mental disorders are not discrete, but are actually on a continuum. When doctors scan first order close relatives of patients, they find that their scans often look halfway between their relatives with the full blown diagnosis, and nonrelatives. Such people also often manifest symptoms that suggest that they are about halfway to a diagnosis. The idea is that it might take say any 7 of a set of 10 genes combined to create a given condition, and if a person turns out to have 4 genes that dispose them to the condition they might be considered only a bit odd. For example, someone half way to schizophrenia might have an unusually high interest in paranormal phenomenon. Perhaps a sibling of an autism patient might be socially clumsy, but is also a very successful computer programmer; partly because his very mild autism means that he can concentrate for long periods of time.
When I grew up I was taught that we shouldn’t judge people by their family, but only by their own actions. In light of the above findings, I realize that judging people partly by their close relatives makes some sense. Many things we might worry about concerning a person, especially if they involve predictions about future behaviors, are hard to judge when we have to make a decision, and any valid additional source of information is helpful. If John’s father abandoned his children, then John might carry genes that could dispose him toward the same behavior. This is useful information to any girlfriend when deciding whether or not to marry him.
The old idea of someone dishonoring the family name makes a good deal of sense when seen in this light. If a sibling does something wrong, the rest of his family members will be correctly judged as being at higher risk for similar behaviors. So, what you do isn’t just your private business, because your actions do reflect well or badly on closely related others.
For further reading, these books both argue for this thesis, Shadow Syndromes: The Mild Forms of Major Mental Disorders That Sabotage Us by John J. Ratey; and Living with Our Genes: Why they Matter More than You Think by Dean H. Hamer and Peter Copland. On the other side of the debate is, Making Us Crazy: DSM: The Psychiatric Bible and the Creation of Mental Disorders by Herby Kutchins and Stuart A. Kirk.
Tags: Mental Health