Schizophrenia, bipolar disorder linked

by Grace Harvey

A recent study has uncovered evidence linking schizophrenia and bipolar disorder — a breakthrough in mental illness research.

UNC professor Patrick Sullivan, one of the researchers who conducted the study, found similarities in the DNA structure of people with the illnesses.

The study sampled more than 50,000 adults and involved a collaboration between more than 65 international research institutions.

Sullivan, who worked on the study for four years, said the goal of the study was to isolate the genes that cause schizophrenia, which usually run in families.

“At some point soon, this work can give us insight into real genetic causes and how to treat people better or even lead to cures,” he said.

Eric Youngstrom, UNC professor of psychology and psychiatry and acting director for the Center for Excellence in Research and Treatment of Bipolar Disorder, said he is excited by the study’s finds because of the possibility of overlapping treatments.

Jennifer Rothman, family program director for the North Carolina National Alliance on Mental Illness, said she hopes the study will generate more empathy for people with mental illnesses.
“Really what this research is going to do is fuel our fire,” she said.

Gloria Harrison, help-line manager for N.C. NAMI, stated in an email that the benefits of the study will help de-stigmatize mental illness.

“It underscores the biological nature of the illness,” Harrison said.

“This is exciting news as it might lead to a greater understanding of mental illness and predictive elements of the disease.”

UNC student Peter Alfredson — who started a NAMI chapter on campus —said the study had potential to help his group’s cause.

He said his chapter works to remove the negative stigmas associated with people with mental illnesses.

Alfredson said the chapter will be hosting programs for Mental Illness Awareness Week during the first week of October.

“A lot of people think that mental illness is something that people choose and this study reinforces that mental illness is not a choice,” he said.

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