Monday, January 11, 2010

Stalking Irish Madness and Me

Recently I was listening to National Public Radio as they reviewed the book Stalking Irish Madness with the author Patrick Tracey. In this book Tracey searches for the roots of schizophrenia that has haunted his family for what appears to have been five generations. Most recently two of his sisters have suffered from an onset.

Of course this peeked my interest for two reasons: 1) My Morris family branch DNA results from Family Tree DNA placed our family in haplogroup R1b1, with our most common recent ancestor as being from Ireland, Scotland, England Wales and 2) My Morris family branch has an overwhelming case of mental illness currently affecting six to eight of the family members. (Two are still in denial.)

It is said in our family that we are bound to have one of two issues: 1) a rare blood disease like antiphospholipid antibody syndrome which I acquired, or sarcoidosis which attacked my oldest brother or 2) mental illness which most often shows up as manic depression or schizophrenia.

So with Tracey’s book in hand, I did further research. To Tracey’s claim that perhaps it was an “Irish madness,” I did find that in 1913, 1920, and 1940, studies showed higher rater of schizophrenia among the Irish in the United States. And, according to Behavior: The Irish Disorder, a Time Magazine article written may 24, 1976, Dr Murphy, McGill University psychiatrist, “reported that the incidence of schizophrenia in the Republic of Ireland is nearly triple the rate of the disease among Irish in Canada and Northern Ireland. The article continued to say that “many researchers consider schizophrenia a genetic disorder, while others believe it is produced by cultural pressures.” Read more:,9171,879743,00.html#ixzz0cJuAVfWD

This is not to say that our family mental issues are a result of our Irish ancestry. It may even be coincidental that so many have suffered from it. But, it would be nice to find the root cause of mental illness, especially when it seems to disrupt full family units for generations. Perhaps that is why I love medical genealogy. It just might help the scientist get a closer view of family medical issues and look at both social and genetic patterns.

Kathleen Brandt
Accurate, Accessible Answers

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