Exploring the Genetics of Schizophrenia

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Awais Aftab, MD, interviews Audrey Clare Farley, PhD, author of Girls and Their Monsters: The Genain Quadruplets and the Making of Madness in America.

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Psychiatric Times® Editorial Board Member Awais Aftab, MD, recently spoke with author Audrey Clare Farley, PhD, about her new book, Girls and Their Monsters: The Genain Quadruplets and the Making of Madness in America.

In Girls and Their Monsters, Farley explored the lives of the Genain quadruplets—the 4 women behind the famous schizophrenia case study conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) beginning in the 1950s.1 As all 4 sisters had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, they became part of NIMH’s efforts to better understand the genetics of schizophrenia.

In their interview, Aftab and Farley discussed the lives of these famous siblings, how they became “the poster girls of psychiatric genetics,” and the role of sexual and racial trauma in mental illness and psychiatric research. They also explored some of the research on the quadruplets conducted by David Rosenthal, PhD, and other NIMH researchers at various times between the 1950s and 1990s.

Farley also briefly discussed her first book, The Unfit Heiress: The Tragic Life and Scandalous Sterilization of Ann Cooper Hewitt, which explored the case of a wealthy woman who secretly had her daughter sterilized to prevent her from inheriting the family fortune in the 1930s, sparking a debate about eugenics. Farley made connections between this case and that of the Genain quadruplets, namely in terms of sexual and racial trauma.

Farley shared that the most important takeaways for psychiatrists from Girls and Their Monsters and The Unfit Heiress include “taking race and racism seriously, not just for their potential to dictate health outcomes, but as core parts of the psyche. I would also say that psychiatry is already shifting towards this more trauma-informed approach, but I would encourage people to pay particular attention to religious trauma, which is emerging as a discipline, and also to take religious scholars seriously.”

The full interview between Aftab and Farley will be available soon at psychiatrictimes.com.

Dr Aftab is a psychiatrist in Cleveland, Ohio, and clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at Case Western Reserve University. He has been actively involved in initiatives to educate psychiatrists and trainees on the intersection of philosophy and psychiatry. He leads the interview series Conversations in Critical Psychiatry” for Psychiatric Times and he writes for his Substack newsletter “Psychiatry at the Margins.” He is also a member of the Psychiatric Times Editorial Board.

Dr Farley is a writer, editor, and scholar of 20th-century American culture with special interests in science and religion. She is the author of The Unfit Heiress: The Tragic Life and Scandalous Sterilization of Ann Cooper Hewitt and Girls and Their Monsters: The Genain Quadruplets and the Making of Madness in America, and her essays have appeared in The Atlantic, The New RepublicThe Washington Post, and many other outlets.

Reference

1. Mirsky AF, Bieliauskas LA, French LM, et al. A 39-year followup of the Genain quadrupletsSchizophr Bull. 2000;26(3):699-708.

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