Genetics are like class A drugs; they had their media boom in the 80s but now they’re stronger than ever. Genetics is still a buzz word today. Everything you do, think and feel can be related to your genome apparently. In a failing relationship the cliched phrase, ‘It’s not me, it’s you,’ could easily be turned into, ‘It’s not me, it’s my genes,’ to describe your failures or even bad behaviour. Thus, genes are often misused as the best creditable explanation and fall guy for lots of psychology enigmas and black holes in academic knowledge.
At the beginning of my psychology journey to create a new, more effective solution to modern mental health problems, called EMA (earthborn meta-animation), I too was partially swayed towards the media standpoint that genetics was the be-all and end-all of the mind.
Without much previous thought at 19, I assumed as most people do, that nature was possibly about 50% of the human equation and nurture the other half. For 25 years of thinking and on-off research later, my psychology understanding is that money is a huge corruptive force which dictates what we are taught and exposed to.
Genetics are nowhere near as important as default clinical and media psychologists would have us believe – see CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing, for instance. If the academic world reveres and studies outdated theories which never worked in the first place, then how can they hope to find the truth? Thankfully, a few psychologists do have their thinking caps on.
We are predominantly social animals and our bad society is the big collective bully which causes most mental illness, not defective genetics. For a start, your genes can actually change if your behaviour and habitat change.
Secondly, any significant human evolutionary changes take about 10,000–12,000 years, yet suddenly everyone has become ‘genetically’ mentally ill at an alarmingly increased rate. Finally, studies of numerous different remote tribes across many continents over the last 150 years show us how dramatically our coercive society produces a negative mindset. Most of these indigenous tribes from all continents had never heard of mental illness and don’t even have a word for it, yet scientifically they have the same genes as us.
Genetic imperfections are insignificant compared to the damage poverty causes. Not enough and too much money makes people ill, yet the common inference is that debt is a by-product of not coping mentally well, rather than financial stress as the catalyst.
There are also many other extraneous factors contributing towards the rise in mental illness which could also be discussed at much greater length, notably: pollution and brain damage; feminism causing broken families; overpopulation increasing stress hormones; a lack of community; and too much technology usage.
To simplify, a person’s ability to mimic their parents will always supersede their own ability to think for themselves. Learning is imprinting and those early psychological, social patterns of behaviour are branded into your psyche for life. Along with your parent’s emotional baggage; you are also gifted with the genetic building blocks of your entire body which simply determine your looks, health and physical strength.
Your mental health is situational and responds to the circumstance and environment you’re in. Your mind is flexible and adaptive, and largely influenced by whatever social paradigm rules and regulations are imposed upon your cognition.
If people’s genetic framework hasn’t evolved significantly for thousands of years, but societies have changed considerably, then either society or the way society records data are responsible for the frantic rise in mental illness, and genetics play a much lesser role. Mentally ill people have been mostly unrecorded and ignored for hundreds of years. But the parallels between technological advancement and mental illness are notable.
According to a wide source of contradictory data, a person’s genetic proclivity towards mental illness ranges from about 9%–25%. It is not a strange coincidence that officially 1 in 4 people suffer from mental illness. Our duplicitous modern society exacerbates these imbedded chromosome flaws to the stressed-out individuals, in stark contrast to tribal villagers living off the land who exhibit a 0.5%–6% range in cases of mental illness. Basically, Western societies bring out the worst in us.
Our superficial society is so against the healthy way nature intended us to live that a further quarter of people who do not have a genetic predisposition towards mental illness are now beginning to suffer conflict and mental health problems.
Soon, half of this brave new world will have a mental health issue and drugs won’t save the day. Just because it’s what we are used to doesn’t make our society normal or healthy. Our only hope is in creating friendly communities and being at one with nature.
Andrew Voller is an online therapist and author.