Unlocking the Black Box of Schizophrenia

Researchers identify schizophrenia’s strongest genetic link

(Source: Sovereign Health Group)

The Sovereign Health Group is pleased to release the first part of its editorial campaign “Unlocking the Black Box of Schizophrenia.” This series will explore the biological origins, symptoms and stigma associated with schizophrenia. This month-long campaign is designed to promote schizophrenia awareness during the month of May, which is designated as Mental Health Month, and in observance of Schizophrenia Awareness Week from May 17 through May 23. Coverage includes investigative reporting, educational articles, infographics and interactive elements such as slideshows.

This first installment introduces exciting new research from Harvard Medical School about the genetic origins behind schizophrenia. Researchers have found a gene that appears to be significantly involved in the development of psychosis. So far, this marks the most conclusive evidence of schizophrenia’s biological origins thus far. “This study marks a crucial turning point in the fight against mental illness. It changes the game,” explained the acting director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), Bruce Cuthbert, Ph.D.

Check out the first installment of the series,Researchers identify schizophrenia’s strongest genetic link.” This article includes a slideshow and infographic for readers.

Significant Treatment Effect of Adjunct Music Therapy to Standard Treatment on the Positive, Negative, and Mood Symptoms of Schizophrenic Patients

Background: Music therapy (MT) has been used as adjunct therapy for schizophrenia for decades. However, its role is still inconclusive. A recent meta-analysis demonstrated that MT for schizophrenic patients only significantly benefits negative symptoms and mood symptoms rather than positive symptoms. In addition, the association between specific characteristics of MT and the treatment effect remains unclear. The aim of this study was to update the published data and to explore the role of music therapy in adjunct treatment in schizophrenia with a thorough meta-analysis.

Methods: We compared the treatment effect in schizophrenic patients with standard treatment who did and did not receive adjunct MT through a meta-analysis, and investigated the clinical characteristics of MT through meta-regression.

Results: The main finding was that the treatment effect was significantly better in the patients who received adjunct MT than in those who did not, in negative symptoms, mood symptoms, and also positive symptoms (all p < 0.05). This significance did not change after dividing the patients into subgroups of different total duration of MT, amounts of sessions, or frequency of MT. Besides, the treatment effect on the general symptoms was significantly positively associated with the whole duration of illness, indicating that MT would be beneficial for schizophrenic patients with a chronic course.

Conclusions: Our meta-analysis highlights a significantly better treatment effect in schizophrenic patients who received MT than in those who did not, especially in those with a chronic course, regardless of the duration, frequency, or amounts of sessions of MT. These findings provide evidence that clinicians should apply MT for schizophrenic patients to alleviate disease severity.

To read the article further, please click here to visit the Medscape website.

‘You Are Okay’: A Support and Educational Program for Children With Mild Intellectual Disability and Their Parents With a Mental Illness

Background: Children of parents with a mental illness or substance use disorder (COPMI) have an increased risk of developing social-emotional problems themselves. Fear of stigmatisation or unawareness of problems prevents children and parents from understanding each other. Little is known about COPMI with mild intellectual disabilities (ID), except that they have a high risk of developing social-emotional problems and require additional support. In this study, we introduce a program for this group, the effectiveness of which we will study using a quasi-experimental design based on matching. The program ‘You are okay’ consists of a support group for children and an online educational program for parents. The goal of the program is to increase children and parents’ perceived competence with an aim to prevent social-emotional problems in children.

Methods/Design: Children between ten and twenty years old with mild ID (IQ between 50 and 85) and at least one of their parents with a mental illness will be included in the study. The children will receive part time treatment or residential care from an institute for children with mild ID and behavioural problems. Participants will be assigned to the intervention or the control group. The study has a quasi-experimental design. The children in the intervention group will join a support group, and their parents will be offered an online educational program. Children in the control group will receive care as usual, and their parents will have no extra offer. Assessments will be conducted at baseline, post-test, and follow up (6 months). Children, parents, and social workers will fill out the questionnaires.

Discussion: The ‘You are okay’ program is expected to increase children and parents’ perceived competence, which can prevent (further) social-emotional problem development. Because the mental illness of parents can be related to the behavioural problems of their children, it is important that children and parents understand each other. When talking about the mental illness of parents becomes standard in children’s treatment, stigmatisation and the fear for stigmatisation can decrease.

To read the article further, please click here to visit the Medscape website.

Scientists Find Gene Fault That Raises Schizophrenia Risk 35-Fold

Scientists say they have conclusive evidence that changes to a gene called SETD1A can dramatically raise the risk of developing schizophrenia – a finding that should help the search for new treatments.

The team, led by researchers at Britain’s Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, said damaging changes to the gene happen very rarely but can increase the risk of schizophrenia 35-fold.

Changes in SETD1A also raise the risk of a range of neurodevelopmental disorders, the researchers said.

In a study published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, the team found that mutations that remove the function of SETD1A are almost never found in the general population, but affect one in 1,000 people with schizophrenia.


To read the article further, please click here to visit the Medscape website.

Resistant Schizophrenia: Brain Imaging Provides Insight

A comprehensive review of brain imaging studies provides support for the two main hypotheses regarding the neurobiology of treatment-resistant schizophrenia, namely, “whether treatment- resistant schizophrenia is best understood as a more severe form of responsive schizophrenia or whether it has a fundamentally different pathophysiology,” Robert McCutcheon, MBBS, MRCPsych, told Medscape Medical News.

“Our review shows some support for both of these hypotheses. On some measures, such as gray matter reductions, resistant patients do appear to show more severe abnormalities compared to responsive patients. On other measures examining neurochemical functioning, however, it seems that there can be quite different processes operating in responsive and resistant patients,” Dr McCutcheon explained.

To read the article further, please click here to visit the Medscape website.

Premature Birth Tied to Adult Psychopathology

Adults who were born very prematurely have an increased risk for interpersonal and behavioral problems that significantly correlate with brain imaging evidence. Investigators at King’s College London, in the United Kingdom, found that 30­ year­olds who were born very preterm, defined by the World Health Organization as birth at 28 to <32 weeks’ gestation, have interpersonal and behavioral problems that are significantly negatively associated with corticostriatal tract volume in the brain.

To read more, please click here to visit the Medscape site.

Legalized Cannabis and the Brain: NIDA Sounds the Alarm ­

Researchers at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) are sounding the alarm over a possible increase in unknown cognitive and behavioral harms that widespread cannabis use may unmask. A clinical review conducted by NIDA director Nora Volkow, MD, points out that as legalization of the drug for recreational and medical use spreads, vulnerable populations, especially adolescents, are exposed to toxic effects of the drug. “This is not a problem that is specific to marijuana,” Dr Volkow told Medscape Medical News. “Young brains and drugs shouldn’t mix. Period.”

To read more, please click here to visit the Medscape site.

How Diet Influences Mental Health: New Findings, New Advances

In an interview for Brain Food, a monthly column for Medscape, Emily Deans, MD and Drew Ramsey, MD talk about diet, lifestyle, and mental health.

To view on Medscape website, please click here.

To read the interview, please click here to download the PDF.

Message From Family and Friends Coordinator Mary Ross

Throughout days I find myself in search of answers…wisdom, trying to understand life’s adversities. My concerns, and those of SARDAA ‘Families and Friends’ as I hear from others in our weekly support calls, have led me to the words of psychiatrist Dr. Viktor E. Frankl as a real source of inspiration. For me personally this involves experiencing saddness as the parent of a daughter having a brain disorder, and accepting the loss of potential, to a degree, which a parent naturally feels for a child’s happiness and life. Through Dr. Frankl’s ability to find meaning in the midst of extreme suffering of his, and his family, they being prisoners for years, during the Holocaust, I find hope in knowing his beliefs which he wrote in ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’. Some that I relate to and find helpful follow:

“ When we are no longer able to change a situation we are challenged to change ourselves”.

“People are primarily driven by a striving to find meaning in one’s life, and it is the sense of meaning that enables people to overcome (or cope with) painful experiences”.

“Even in the most absurd, painful and dehumanized situations, life has potential meaning, and therefore even suffering is meaningful”.

“What is to give light must endure burning”.

With heart,

Mary Ross, FFS Coordinator

Message by Antoinette (Toni) Hook


Life is like a whisper in the wind.
The fall gone and winter is on its way
As the days grow short and the wind is strong,
The snow will melt, and spring is on its way.
Like a whisper in the wind.
The spring will bring flowers.
And summer will be upon us.
Our life goes on like a whisper in the wind.
One day we are twenty, and the next fifty.
We may count our blessings, for one day
Are life will be a whisper in the wind.
Larry A Opines:
It has long bothered families and sufferers alike that the psychiatric community and DSM diagnostic guidebooks label the symptoms of schizophrenia, etc. as either “Positive,” meaning symptoms that are classified by their presence that are there in sufferers but not in chronically normal persons: hallucinations and delusions… or “Negative,” meaning symptoms that are classified by their absence: they are Not there in sufferers but Are there in chronically normal persons: lack of pleasure (“anhedonia”), poverty of speech (“alogia”) and lack of motivation (“amotivation”).

To the sufferers and to their loved ones, there is nothing “positive” about anhedonia or hallucinations, alogia or delusions… none of it.  And they feel dissed by the professionals who label symptoms in this way.

This writer is a clinically trained poet; I studied chemical dependency counseling on the graduate level for two and a half years.  I have written a couple thousand haiku.  I suffer from psychiatric challenges, working daily to transcend all the above.

It seems to me we need a new, more accurate & inclusive nomenclature when describing symptoms to sufferers and their loved ones.  They have already suffered enough.

I suggest we change our tongue out of reverence toward the suffering population; these are after all the people we are pledged to help… aren’t they?  Here is my suggestion: call the delusion and hallucination symptoms, those that are added to the experience of the world in sufferers: “additual symptoms” or “plus one… two… three… symptoms” and call the alogia, amotivational and anhedonia symptoms that are subtracted from the experience of the world of sufferers: “subtractual symptoms” or “minus one… two… three… symptoms.”

This linguistic effort would help heal the breach that currently exists between sufferers, their loved ones and mental health professionals.

Someday we might begin to see a world where what are now classed as “symptoms” might be viewed as “creative challenges” and channeled into paths that nourish persons rather than denigrate them into a marginalized existence.

In the Hippocratic Oath, is there not the phrase, “Do no harm?”

‘Nuff said.