New research from Indiana University reveals clues about the genetics of schizophrenia. The findings eventually could lead to a genetic test to assess a person’s risk for developing this debilitating mental illness.
A few years ago, Philadelphia filmmaker Eran Preis got a frantic call from relatives that his son Jonathan had disappeared. Preis eventually found his son in a psychiatric hospital — he had suffered a mental breakdown.
“It was one of the hardest times in both of our lives,” Preis recalled.
Jonathan was diagnosed with schizophrenia, and has been in and out of hospitals ever since. Preis has made a film about his family’s experience called “Jonathan’s Return.”
Preis says a test for schizophrenia could have spared his family much suffering. “I believe in knowledge,” said Preis. “I believe that if you know, you see symptoms, and then you go and do whatever examination you can have. Then you know how to deal with it, and it clearly helps the first horrible, horrific event.”
The first real episode of schizophrenia is often very traumatic for sufferers and their families, and tends to result in prolonged hospitalizations.
Psychiatrists say the sooner a person comes into treatment for schizophrenia, the better their outcomes.
Columbia University psychiatrist Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman is leading a national effort to develop early interventions for people with schizophrenia.
Right now, these interventions take place during or after the first real episode of schizophrenia.
He says with a genetic test, psychiatrists could prevent people from ever having a first full-blown episode of schizophrenia. Patients with a family history of the disorder, as well as some behavior issues could be examined, and those who have the disorder could be identified and treated before they have a breakdown.
“If you can do that, then you can prevent what’s called the clinical deterioration associated with schizophrenia which is really due to the progression of the illness in the brain,” said Lieberman.