Can Viruses Cause Mental Illness?

Spend time in a crowded shopping center or in an air conditioned office during peak winter virus time and you'd expect that your chances of picking up a cold or flu virus would be increased. But what if you could pick up a mental illness via the same method?

Conditions such as depression and schizophrenia have long been regarded as having a strong biological component by most doctors. That is, it is believed that there exists a genetic link in the development of these conditions. But what if these illnesses were caused by viruses? This is exactly what researchers in the area of mental health have been asking recently.

The theory that a virus or bacteria could cause mental illness dates back to the discovery that syphilis causes mental illness and that, via a simple dose of antibiotics, people today need not fear the insanity that comes as syphilis reaches into final, tertiary stage. Now other "physical" illnesses are being investigated as catalysts for the onset of mental illness.

Take the case of Sheryl, who as a 19-year-old was locked up in the high-dependency suicide watch ward of her local mental hospital. She believed she was in a concentration camp and was diagnosed as suffering from acute psychosis. She also had another puzzling symptoms including poor balance, a sensitivity to light, chest pains, crippling fatigue, and flu-like symptoms to name a few.

Sheryl was eventually released from hospital and struggled with mental illness for the next fourteen years before it was discovered that she was suffering form Lyme disease. After being told by numerous psychiatrists and taking literally truckloads of medication to stave off the depression, agitation, and psychotic symptoms that came and went in rapid succession, she finally had an answer.

Like syphilis, Lyme disease is caused by a bacterium which burrows into various parts of the body, including the brain. It may lay dormant for months or even years, until its activation results in a puzzling and terrifying array of psychiatric and physical symptoms. Lyme disease is caused by the bite of the tick and was first identified in the 1970s. Fortunately, it can be reversed by means of long term antibiotic therapy. Unfortunately, Lyme disease is under-diagnosed and victims of the bacteria suffer needlessly for years.

As research progresses, numerous other bugs have been shown to cause various mental illnesses from depression to full-blown psychosis. More radical researchers insist that the conventional theories of mental illness must be challenged; although it is unlikely that so- called "brain germs" are responsible for most mental illnesses. However, what this research has shown is that doctors must be willing to keep an open mind in the area of mental health and pursue all avenues of thought before routinely doling out potent and potentially harmful psychotropic medication unnecessarily.

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