Search This Blog

Friday 11 May 2012

For Irish Up, ELT and anyone else who's interested

As I was falling asleep last night, I took one of those brain leaps.  Learning about epigenetics, I want to put the question out there:

How much of the increase in the world's poor mental health  today is a result of the stress that our parents,  grandparents and great-grandparents went though during two world wars, passed on to via epigenetics?


  1. Whew! C, you might want to ease back on the funny mushrooms right before bedtime ;).

    So first? Do we *know* that there is an increase in poor mental health? globally? Let us leave aside definitions of good vs poor mental health - that's a bag of angry, wet cats. Let us just posit that there *is* GMH and PMH and that we can take people and put them into one or the other bucket with some reliability.

    Now, we're also going to have to deal with the apples & oranges problem of which people, so let's say we're comparing middle class, western adults born 1860-1880 vs 1960-1980. See! Already we've had to toss "global" out of our model, and eventually we'd have to account for race, gender and ethnicity - a whole *other* bag of angry cats.

    Limited and reductionistic as this model is, I'm not so sure that we would find huge differences in GMH/PMH ratios in our two cohorts. What we might reasonably expect to see are:
    - Differences in whether $_Diagnosis X is considered GMH or PMH. Example: melancholia or "prolonged grieving" was not seen as problematic in the Victorian period. Now, like as not your GP would slap Mood Disorder NOS on your chart and prescribe some bupropion or something.
    - Differences in diagnoses period. Anyone been diagnoses with Hysteria lately? (TYVM but my uterus appears to be perfectly stationary!) And that's not even getting into REALLY problematic territory like "Drapetomania" & "Sex addiction".
    - Differences in the MIX of diagnoses. Shifting demographics and exposures mean differing vulnerabilities. Take an occupational exposure example: Mad Hatters disease (essentially mercury poisoning) vs. concussion trauma syndrome of contact sport athletes. Not a large portion of total population is/was either a Haberdasher* or Pro Athlete, but the risks of one vs the other, even within the professions, have changed over time. Also, see syphillis.

    That said, I have to confess that I do believe modern western culture - specifically the Anglo culture we share, despite our language differences - is an environment that fosters phenotypic expression of a lot of mental health vulnerabilities, and provides less societal amelioration than may have historically been the case. But I'm hesitant to hang my hat on this**, because I didn't live then. IDK about you, but I'm pretty sure an arranged marriage at 16 would NOT have fostered my own healthy psyche!

    So ….. We'll just have to get our hands on a TARDIS to work this one through.

    As for the epigenetics part, believe it or not that's maybe a bit easier to get a handle on. The molecular genetics and mathematical modeling are a bit (a LOT) over my head, but my grasp of the theory is basically that while epigenetics raises average risks of being Disease+ on the alleles resulting in complex diseases (that is, diseases that are due to multiple alleles, not just one factor like in sickle cell anemia) in the short term, it would take those same conditions replicating themselves across a bunch of generations (like way more than 100yrs worth) before this would impact populationally. Disease states are generally selected against; for epigenetic changes to persist in the population and raise to frequency levels where they are reliably inherited by mating pairs means that said conditions are also persisting and are not negatively affecting reproduction. Among other things.

    So, whatever we're seeing is not heritable epigenetics. Yet. We think. But who knows?

    OK, that's my stab at it.

    (*You have *no idea* how psyched I am to have legit cause to use "haberdasher"!!!!!)
    (har! See what I did there?!)

  2. Anonymous12 May, 2012

    Really happy that Irish has provided such a wonderfully detailed comment :) I am currently brain-dead - after excessive blood loss and an infected gum and cannot think straight. Think I should return to bed and read 'The Tale of Peter Rabbit'.

  3. Irish

    Thank you for that. Just wanted to clear one thing up. If you moved to the UK, you could send your kids to Haberdashers' Schools - how cool would that be? (

    However, Haberdashers sell buttons. Milliners make hats!

  4. I love when archaic skills are preserved. I wonder where haberdashers get employed? That seems like the rate-limiting factor to me.

    Ah; that common language again!
    Chaucer used haberdasher for peddler; specifically a peddler of clothing odds n ends.
    This side of the pond, Haberdashers were men's clothing and hat makers. Milliners were by denotation "Lady Shops"; lady owned, lady goods.

    ELT, very sorry to hear that, it sounds like a lot of not fun. I am sending healing thoughts your way. Beatrix is always fun to read :)

  5. We have really cool livery company schools

    Mercers - St Pauls
    Grocers (who were originally the Worshipful Company of Pepperers) - Oundle
    Fishmongers - Greshams
    Tobacco Pipe Makers and Tobacco Blenders - Sevenoaks.
    Merchant Taylors
    My favourite - the Skinners (Worshipful Company of) School for Girls

    Other cool livery companies include Coopers, Dyers, Basketmakers, Pewterers, Cutlers, Barbers, Goldsmiths - no peddlers though....


    1. Wheelwrights? Apothecaries? Farriers?
      SOO far OT, but I just saw a thing on the only woman in the world who is a Master of Ancient Greek Carpentry. There is one hardcore institute in Greece that is passing on the carpentry skills from Homer's time. All that ornate and classic carving. In order to do it you have to learn to be equally dexterous with both L and R hands; for the ancient Greeks, beauty = symmetry so classic G carving required the pattern (eg laurel leaves) to be mirrored. Exactly. Traditionally, you did this by doing the first pattern with one hand, and the second with the other. So cool.

  6. As for haberdashers - we have haberdasheries all over the place. Many less than when I was a child but I know there are lots round here and John Lewis (big department store chain and owner of grocers, Waitrose) has haberdashery departments in its big stores. I just googled for Suffolk UK haberdashers and got loads - Halfpenny Home, Patch Crafts, Mill House Fabrics, Elizabeth's and .... wait for it..... Bobb-In.