Saturday, February 22, 2020

Familial origins of mental health problems

Lindsey Sinclair in her commentary on David Kingdon's article (mentioned in my last post) says that "[b]iological and genetic abnormalities have been demonstrated in major mental illnesses". Her claims need examining further and at least by being so definitive she can be held to them. For the moment, I just want to comment on how she contrasts what she says was the widely held belief 50 years ago that "parents could be responsible for their offspring developing schizophrenia" with what she perceives as the radical change in our biological and genetic understanding of mental health problems started in the past few decades.

As mentioned in a previous post, eminent psychiatrists, such as Anthony Clare and Robin Murray, have taken their position in psychiatry as a reaction to their understanding of R.D. Laing as blaming families for causing schizophrenia. As I said, for example in my book chapter, this is actually a misunderstanding of Laing's views. He wasn't talking about a direct one-to-one causal relationship but understanding schizophrenia in the familial context.

Frieda Fromm-Reichman (1948) probably coined the term "schizophrenogenic mother". The book by Gail Hornstein (see previous post) To Redeem One Person Is to Redeem the World gives a positive view of her life and legacy. Biological and genetic accounts do not provide any understanding as such of mental health problems.

Neill (1990) asked the question 'Whatever became of the schizophrenogenic mother?'. As Neill said, probably the most important series of family studies was by Theodore Lidz (see extract from by book chapter). These kinds of studies were undertaken by both David Cooper (who probably coined the term 'anti-psychiatry') and R.D. Laing (see further extracts from another book chapter). The link between these family studies and so called 'anti-psychiatry' cannot be denied.

As Neill says, "By the mid-1970s, the concept of the schiophrenogenic mother seemed to have proven too elusive to be useful". Certainly any over-determined view of the familial origins of schizophrenia (which I don't think can be attributed to Laing) was abandoned. Understanding of the reasons for mental health problems is complex and there can never be a proof as such of their cause. Trouble is that too biological a view such as Sinclair's can also be overdetermined.

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