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Amish families offer a clue to manic depression

 

Wallis, C. Reported by Dorfman, A. & Thompson, D. (1987, March 9). Is mental illness inherited? Amish families offer a clue to manic depression. Time.

OVERVIEW

FACTS

  • It is strange to find someone among the Amish, known as quiet pacifists, who is deeply depressed and suicidal—Amish have an explanation for a disturbed individual in their community "Siss in blut" meaning in their blood.
  • Researcher Janice Egelan, from the University of Miami of Medical School, and a group of scientists, from Yale and M.I.T., confirmed this Amish adage.
  • Cases of manic depression in Amish family are linked to human chromosome 11. This study ushers in a new era of psychiatric research.

WHAT IS MANIC DEPRESSION?

  • It is also known as bipolar affective disorder.
  • It causes victims to oscillate between two extreme emotional states: one, a feeling of grandeur and extravagance, leaving the victim unable to eat or sleep; and the other, a state of loneliness, hopelessness, guilt, and suicidal feelings.

FINDINGS

  • Egeland found 32 active cases of manic depression in an Amish community—all proving to have the disease going back several generations.
  • When DNA was compared with a member of a family who was mentally ill and a normal member of the same family, discrepancies were found in a region of chromosome 11.
  • The conclusion to this finding was "a gene or group of genes in or near this region confers a predisposition to manic depression."

DOES THE SAME GENE DEFECT PLAY A ROLE IN MANIC DEPRESSION?

  • Two studies published in Nature found no link between the chromosome 11 and manic depression.
  • Still, these two studies do not undermine the discovery of a genetic basis for this ailment.
  • It seems that more than one gene may be involved in manic depression.

THE NEXT STEPS FOR SCIENTISTS

  • To identify the genes responsible for manic depression.
  • To understand the biochemical basis for this disease.
  • To find a chemical (medication) that will stabilize the moods.
  • To develop tests for diagnosis of people at risk for bipolar disorder to formulate.

IMPLICATIONS

  1. There is much more to manic depression than we know. We need to refer to the experts in any situation that seems to be beyond normal actions or circumstances.
  2. There are many manic depressives with whom we associate every day and would never know they have the disease. Medicine does a lot to help people and control this type of depression.
  3. We need to be aware of manic depression in others and be supportive. The tendency is to think that people are moody or crazy, but, in actuality, it is a physical distress over which they have no control. They need as much acceptance as others with diagnosed diseases such as epilepsy and diabetes.
Anne Montague cCYS