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Baby Blues

Mother and foetus

Studies of environmental risk factors, and the specific timing of these insults, is beginning to provide a better understanding of why schizophrenia develops in some individuals and not others.

By Desiree Dickerson

A mother’s immune response to influenza and other infections during pregnancy increases the risk of schizophrenia in her unborn child.

Desiree Dickerson is a PhD candidate in the Department of Psychology at the University of Otago, New Zealand.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Schizophrenia is a chronic and disabling mental illness characterised by disrupted thoughts, emotions and behaviours. While affecting approximately 1% of the population, it also places a significant burden on family and friends, and commandeers a disproportionate share of mental health services.

While it’s commonly known for its more florid symptoms – the hallucinations and delusions – often the more debilitating aspects of schizophrenia include difficulty in common cognitive functioning such as poor perception, attention, memory and motivation. These difficulties remain more persistent across time, and carry with them the poorest prognosis. Cognitive deficits, their causes and their treatment remain the least understood of the melee of symptoms that make up this mental illness.

Considerable research effort has been directed at understanding the causes of schizophrenia. It is now commonly accepted that there is a significant, albeit elusive, causal role for genes and heritability in this disorder. It has also become clear, however, that environmental factors, and the way they interact with the genetic component, play a critical role. The study of environmental risk factors, and the specific timing of these insults, is beginning to provide a better understanding of why the disorder develops in some individuals and not others.

Several environmental...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.