The New Yorker had an article in late March (that I did not read) about heredity and mental illness titled, “It Runs In the Family”
The reason I am drawing your attention to it now is that in the latest edition of The New Yorker”, there was a letter to the editor from someone who found this article very helpful. Her response made me think of my response and apparently quite a few others' responses to the widely distributed research about the contestants for “The Biggest Loser” TV. I've written about that previously here and here. In essence, it was more healing than hopeless to read about the body's resistance to maintaining a significant weight loss. It just helps to know what contributes to the struggle rather than to be kept in the fog of a series of “truths” that actually don't stand the test of updated research and scientific study.
The series of articles and discussions that followed the publication of that NYTimes article offered a physiological explanation for what many of us had always previously regarded as solely a psychological or character failure. While the article in the New Yorker is about a totally different subject–it was making clear that genetics had played a clear role in his family's history of mental illness–it was lifting the stigma of the illness to a genetic cause.
The series of articles about why folks have such a difficult time keeping weight off did a similar shapeshifting. It has traditionally been regarded as a character, will power, a psychological combination of issues more than having roots in actual physiology.
So, the parallel I see is that a problem that was once viewed one way and which brought significant shame right along with it, is now viewed by scientists, physicians and hopefully folks who have it, in a very different way.
I'm going to share this woman's response to the article and can only say she articulated the issues of once you are able to understand an issue for what it is, you do not blame anyone (including yourself) but simply acknowledge and accept the problem without shame.
Here is the letter to the editor in the May 16th issue. I am grateful she sent it in.
Muhkerjee’s piece emphasizes the link between heredity and mental illness. I would add that the knowledge of this link can itself provide a measure of healing. As a college student, I developed agoraphobia so intense that I had to drop out of school. When a doctor explained that genetics predisposed me to mental-health issues, because family members on both sides, for multiple generations, had suffered from mental illness, I remember feeling that a burden had been lifted. It was not that I could now blame my panic attacks and suicidal depression on my parents or grandparents but, rather, that none of us could blame anyone. It was simply a problem that needed to be acknowledged and accepted, without the shame that so often accompanies mental illness.