Schizophrenia discussed on Weekend Edition Sunday


What is schizophrenia really is it only a psychiatric condition or does it have its origins in something else who is more susceptible to it and why these are the questions at the heart of a new book about an extraordinary family writer Robert Kolker the bestselling author of lost girls tells the story of the Galvin family they seemed a model for baby boomer America twelve children with a military dad in a strict but religious mother growing up in Colorado in the nineteen sixties but over the years six of the boys were diagnosed with schizophrenia and now their journey is transforming the science around the mental illness the book is called hidden valley road inside the mind of an American family and Robert Kolker joins us now from his home in Brooklyn New York welcome to the program thanks a lot hello we can't get into every story line in this incredibly detailed and richly reported book but a generally tell me about the gallons and the time that they were living in well they really lived in the grandest period of the American century they were married at the end of World War two they raised a family in the fifties and sixties through the Cold War and through the American prosperity boom and their children really where the baby boom the oldest one was born in nineteen forty five and the youngest one in nineteen sixty five and there were twelve of them so they were famous wherever they lived as this very large family that outwardly seems perfect in every way let's talk about why schizophrenia has been such a mystery there was this a debate that you discuss initially a nature genetics or nurture that something in the way someone was brought up triggers schizophrenia what was the debate about well the very beginning of psychiatry most people who were giving schizophrenia named believe that it had some sort of physical quality to it and that it might be hereditary but Sigmund Freud disagreed he really believe that in mainly it was something that was inherited not inherited in a genetic sense but inherited in terms of childhood trauma and and this nature nurture debate continued for some time and in fact the nurture people the psychoanalyst's really held sway throughout the twentieth century at least in America at all suggesting that some people who had schizophrenia and lived in a world that the therapist had to penetrate and that with the right kind of therapy the problem might be solved in the person might enter reality again and this completely ignored the genetic aspect of it now we're living in a world where everything is seemingly about genetics but we're back to a nature nurture argument because we believe that schizophrenia and other complex diseases are just about genetics better about genes that are impacted or affected by the environment explained it well it's always been known to be a syndrome as opposed to a disease it's not like influenza where you can identify what it is in terms of its you know chemistry schizophrenia is really a collection of symptoms that are defined and then treated based on the symptoms sue you in the book I talk about a woman called Linda Lee C. and her work she believe that families like the Galvin's held the key to understanding schizophrenia that's right a doctor Lee C. was a pioneer at the time she was one of the top researchers at the National Institute of mental health and she became fascinated by the idea that if you started a family with a large incidence of schizophrenia and that you might be able to find some sort of genetic silver bullet inside it that could help us understand how the condition takes shape in the general population but she had went on to assemble the most numerous a collection of what she called multiplex families and to the gallons for one of those first families and they were the largest family and it was through the study of those families that with a lot of twists and turns she ended up once the human genome was sequenced to actively demonstrate how families like the gallons can help us understand the condition and how it takes shape yeah and let's talk about what was uncovered through looking at families like the goblins because it was a mystery right at the heart of this about the way the brains of schizophrenics function that's right and her belief was that this definitely was inherited that environment had nothing to do with it what they found was in fact a genetic mutation that might be unique to this family but is so vital to brain function that it might help us understand how schizophrenia works and that's really how families like the garbage can help us going forward we can look at them and their particular genetic mutation that might be at fault and while that mutation may not exist elsewhere you can help us understand the disease and how it affects others in their models for this with other diseases so possibly might be neuro developmental is is what they came to sort of believe yes in the eighties the new wisdom about schizophrenia was that it was a developmental disorder which is to say that even though so people came down with that at the age of twenty or twenty one that didn't mean that they suddenly got bitten by an insect and had schizophrenia or it meant that there was something with in their genetic makeup that they had from before they were even born that gave them a vulnerability a special sensitivity whether was the inability to filter out certain stimuli or difficulty and brain development that only manifested itself in the final stages of brain development which as we know now is adolescents you come across the gallons a mutual friend of mine and Lindsey Galvan introduced us Lindsay is the youngest of the twelve and he had known them for years and that the two sisters there ten brothers and two sisters Margaret and Lindsey and the family had been talking for years about trying to let the world know about their family stories and finally they decided they needed an outsider and independent journalist who could take the story wherever it led yeah now that their story is finally being told what do you think we should take away from what they went through well I mean these are challenging times independent of mental illness I think that this is an example of a family that really experienced not just one but two or three or four different horrors all at once and came out the other side it's about not turning inward when when the worst happens in life it's about reaching out to each other and understanding the value of family and the value of not closing yourself off to possibilities I really believe there's a lot of hope and inspiration in this story that people can take away from it independent of mental illness issues rather call government is the author of the new book hidden valley road inside the mind of an American family thank you very much thank you letter they're two world renowned musicians from two very different parts of the world Grammy Award winner Abigail Washburn plays one of the most popular instruments in Appalachian music the banjo Fay.

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