Schizophrenia and the Flu: Scientific American Reports

A recent edition of the popular science and technology publication Scientific American begins its in-depth article on the possibility of a link between mental health concerns and biological agents with a fairly simple observation: “Schizophrenia is a devastating illness.” What the article fails to introduce as readily is the fact that this mental health concern, which does indeed present a challenge for many people around the world, is also one of the least understood mental difficulties ever studied. Nevertheless, the article goes on to present what it calls a growing body of research suggesting that the common flu may be responsible for the appearance and spread of schizophrenia.

Psychologists and other mental health care professionals with an interest in schizophrenia may be hotly divided as to the potential of such a claim to hold true, and may also contend amongst themselves as to the possibility of mental health concerns stemming from purely biological causes. The article suggests that it is not a biological agent itself that might hold the power to generate mental health concerns in people, but rather the precise response of the immune system. While bodies of evidence supporting such theories may indeed seem to link rates of pregnant mothers afflicted with agents such as the flu and the subsequent emergence of schizophrenia in their children, conclusive support is far from being provided.

Though the article proposes what to some mental health professionals may be a grim future –that is, one with vaccines alone used to “treat” the concerns commonly addressed through psychotherapy today–, its discussion of the possibility of a direct link between the flu and schizophrenia will likely be found a worthy read among many.

© Copyright 2009 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • JpJunior


    August 3rd, 2009 at 12:41 PM

    thanks for reporting on this possibility.. seems reasonable and possible that a number of diseases, mental or not, might be triggered by a virus or bacteria… so much we don’t know yet, sadly.

  • hotspotshield


    August 3rd, 2009 at 1:06 PM

    Thank you very much for this summary!

  • sue sue

    sue sue

    August 3rd, 2009 at 1:10 PM

    Actually, my understanding is that most psychotherapists accept the fact the schizophrenia is a purely physiological organic disease, not one that is caused by a person’s experiences, learning, or environment… So, I don’t think therapists will look at this news “grimly.” Besides, therapists are still needed to help people with schizophrenia and their families, even if there assistant cannot “cure” the disease.

  • Nikki


    August 4th, 2009 at 3:52 AM

    This is so scary! I read every year about how devastating the flu is worldwide and yet we rarely see that kind of death here in the US. But now to think that it could be linked to future illnesses is beyond frightening.

  • Martha T.

    Martha T.

    August 12th, 2009 at 10:32 AM

    If nothing else that research may provide some comfort to families seeking answers as to why schizophrenia has affected their family. If those findings are accurate and it’s the response of the immune system that’s the culprit, the CDC continuing to recommend flu shots to pregnant women when this is a possible outcome is very wrong.

  • Samuel


    August 16th, 2009 at 1:52 PM

    We rely too heavily on vaccines to boost our immunity as it stands. What happened before shots were so easy to come by? We’ve get the sniffles, spend a few days in bed feeling sorry for ourselves and it was over. We’re pathetically weak now.

  • Ron Unger

    Ron Unger

    August 23rd, 2009 at 7:47 PM

    I think people who are most thoughtful about schizophrenia see it as one way the stress response can go wrong in humans, and see many things as possibly contributing. That includes genes, prenatal influences, but also life experiences – contrary to what Sue Sue says, there’s lots of evidence that childhood sexual abuse for example greatly increases the risk of later psychosis and schizophrenia.

    I’ve heard that obsessive compulsive disorder is known to be more likely to occur after certain kinds of events affecting the immune system – but it is also a disorder that often responds well to psychotherapy. So just because a disorder is caused partly or even mostly by a biological cause, does not mean that psychotherapy can have no role in its remedy.

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Title   Content   Author is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, medical treatment, or therapy. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding any mental health symptom or medical condition. Never disregard professional psychological or medical advice nor delay in seeking professional advice or treatment because of something you have read on