New schizophrenia research suggests the ‘crucial role’ of environment

Recent research by John Read and colleagues published in the Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica journal argues that the role of environment in causing schizophrenia is far greater than is widely supposed.

The research pinpoints specific environmental factors including physical and sexual abuse, and ‘negative and mystifying’ parenting, as potentially being a major – if not the major – cause of schizophrenia. It is also suggested that the hallucinations experienced by people with schizophrenia could also be an echo of traumatic experiences, creating a ‘paranoid universe’ for the individual.

Discussing the new research in the Guardian, Oliver James, who has caused some controversy by emphasising environmental causes, expressed his hope that, in the light of the new research, antipsychotic medications will no longer be ‘doled out automatically’ and psychological therapies will be used more frequently.

Reacting to the research, Bill Walden-Jones, Chief Executive of Welsh mental health charity Hafal, stated: “The nature versus nurture argument surrounding schizophrenia has continued for quite some time. This new research appears to add some points to that debate that should of course be carefully considered.

“Hafal has always advocated to our clients that recovery is not simply based on medication: instead we promote a recovery plan that can also include psychological therapies, as well as a number of other areas such as employment training and support with social life.

“Ultimately there needs to be an honest debate about the causes of schizophrenia that takes both genetics and upbringing into account. But when talking about environmental factors we must be careful not to begin a blame game: the object should always be to understand the illness better in order to help people recover.”