of mental illness
Autism, schizophrenia and other disorders
may have roots in life’s earliest stages.
BY KIRSTEN WEIR
Where does mental illness begin? New research suggests the seeds of psychological problems are planted well before birth.
Schizophrenia isn’t the only mental illness linked to prenatal
events. Using data from a Dutch birth cohort, Brown found that
people whose mothers were undernourished while pregnant
had a significantly increased risk of major affective disorders,
such as mania and depression, severe enough to require
hospitalization (American Journal of Psychiatry, 2000).
Other researchers have shown that adverse events during
pregnancy, including infections, toxin exposure and maternal
stress, can boost the fetus’s future risk of problems such as
depression, anxiety, autism, mood disorders and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Events in early childhood are
also linked to persistent mental health problems. Childhood
maltreatment, for example, increases the odds of developing
depression or post-traumatic stress disorder in adulthood.