Mental Illness Might Be Caused By Microbes
April 19, 2008 11:05 PM   Subscribe

Are you batshitinsane? Viruses and/or bacteria may be the cause.
posted by amyms (17 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I just realized, my use of "batshitinsane" in the FPP might be seen as offensive. But, it was meant to be light-hearted, and is in no way meant to minimize the pain of those inflicted with psychiatric disorders (of which I have personalize experience). I think the article is interesting, and I hope that research into how microbial infections relate to mental health will someday alleviate a lot of suffering.
posted by amyms at 11:07 PM on April 19, 2008 [2 favorites]

posted by jouke at 11:22 PM on April 19, 2008

You scared me, jouke! I thought you were telling me my post was a double (whew!)... That's a cool AskMe, though, I hadn't seen it before.
posted by amyms at 11:27 PM on April 19, 2008

Ah, vague correlations between pre-natal infections and mental illness. That's the problem with pretty much all research into the etiology of mental illness at the moment: It's all vague correlation and a complete lack of any causative mechanism. A convincing explanation (preferably one that didn't just mumble about catecholamines) of how mental illnesses work would be nice, so that there was a real basis for this etiological research.

Who knows, maybe one day this kind of research will actually be able to mean something and offer real hope, but I don't see that happening any time soon.
posted by xchmp at 11:30 PM on April 19, 2008

In 1896 Scientific American published an editorial entitled “Is Insanity Due to a Microbe?”

At first glance, I thought this was a typo. Then I learned - hey, SciAm is pretty damned old.
posted by SassHat at 11:37 PM on April 19, 2008

People have known that microbes, like the bacteria that causes syphilis, can cause insanity for hundreds of years. It's practically common knowledge.
posted by delmoi at 11:58 PM on April 19, 2008

In fact, dosn't the term 'batshitinsane' refer to mental insanity caused by infections picked up by contact with bat guano from infected bats?

Or am I hallucinating again?
posted by delmoi at 12:02 AM on April 20, 2008

When I was at Los Alamos, I found out they had Sci Am all the way back to its first issue sometime in the 1840s. I remember reading about the large clock tower they were building in London at the time and also that Americans were known for their bad tooth hygiene relative to the British.

Also, I'm insane.
posted by dirigibleman at 12:12 AM on April 20, 2008

In fact, dosn't the term 'batshitinsane' refer to mental insanity caused by infections picked up by contact with bat guano from infected bats?

delmoi, see jouke's AskMe link above for some interesting thoughts on that.
posted by amyms at 12:16 AM on April 20, 2008

That's crazy talk.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:14 AM on April 20, 2008

No batshitinsane tag?
posted by trip and a half at 3:51 AM on April 20, 2008

If this is so, it raises very interesting consequences for the concept of volition.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 4:43 AM on April 20, 2008

Some of what is discussed in the article focussed on correlations between illness during pregnancy and increased incidence of mental illness in the fetus. But some of the more recent research was much more than simple correlation - manipulations that produced immune system responses in rodents followed by examinations of the behavior of the pups go quite a bit beyond simple correlation. The problem with the interpretation of the rodent work is how to quantify behavioral data in a way that can be interpreted in a subjective way that relates to the symptoms of mental illness. A second problem is how to relate these rodent studies to humans at all. But I found this to be a fascinating read and I learned a lot from it.
posted by bluesky43 at 5:44 AM on April 20, 2008

Are you batshitinsane?

Did the aliens who are controlling George Bush while they secretly steal our reserves of bauxite tell you to ask me that?
posted by Horace Rumpole at 6:28 AM on April 20, 2008

posted by ZenMasterThis at 7:43 AM on April 20, 2008

The most compelling evidence is for schizophrenia. More than 200 studies have suggested that schizophrenia occurs between 5 and 8 percent more frequently than average in children born in the winter or spring. Scientists realized that viruses, which are most prevalent in the cold, dry winter months, could be one of the factors influencing this correlation...
...“We showed that if [flu] infection occurred in the early to middle part of pregnancy, the risk of schizophrenia was increased three times,” Brown explains. “For first-trimester exposure, it was increased seven times.”

The math is somewhat faulty: if you assume a 9 month gestation, the data fit only the winter born, who would have been conceived in the spring with a few flu bugs still around.

In 2006 scientists at Columbia University asserted that up to one fifth of all schizophrenia cases are caused by prenatal infections.

This is a rather underwhelming ratio: when you factor in forgotten infections it reaches randomness levels.

Interesting post, a step in the right direction toward the normalization of mental illness as a disease. I was not offended by the batshitinsane: I took it as an eye-catching attempt and not as a put down of the mentally ill.
posted by francesca too at 11:32 AM on April 20, 2008

See also: Toxoplasma gondii
posted by porpoise at 2:27 PM on April 20, 2008

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