Schizophrenia, which often develops between ages 14 and 22, is one of the most misunderstood mental illnesses. And an international team of researchers led by a UNC professor might find a new way to treat people with the disorder.
“There is a lot going on with brain development at that time,” Barbara Smith , a professor at the UNC School of Social Work. “If you find ways to manage stress well, then that’s going to help with your brain health. All of these things that will help somebody get through college can also protect against developing a mental illness.”
About 300 scientists and 80,000 subjects participated in a seven-year international research study led by Dr. Patrick Sullivan, a genetics and psychiatry professor at UNC. The study found 108 sites on a person’s genetic makeup associated with developing schizophrenia .
The findings of the study mean people like Alex Harrison could lead more normal lives in the future.
Harrison had his first psychotic break in 1998. He accused of his sister of having a computer voice. He was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder , a mental illness that is a combination of schizophrenia and a mood disorder.
“I didn’t really believe the diagnosis of schizoaffective,” Harrison said. “I couldn’t work. I was too messed up in the head, too incapacitated.”
‘It won’t be easy’
Since 2001, Harrison has been admitted to the hospital 19 times and attempted suicide four times. With medication and support, he hasn’t been hospitalized in almost 2 years .