We're still living in the Stone Age when it comes to our understanding of mental illness. If you find out that your mom needs pills to control her blood pressure, you shrug and forget about it; if you find out that your mom needs pills to keep from hearing voices in her head, you think you're living in a horror movie.
But your brain is just another part of your body, and just as you can get a cold by touching a doorknob somebody sneezed on, there are all sorts of random and innocuous things that can make it go haywire. Like ...
5 Your Birth Month
Typically, the month you're born in doesn't affect much beyond determining what major holiday will make everyone forget to send you a card. However, a recent study in the U.K. showed that your birth month can potentially do catastrophic damage to your mental well-being, and it has nothing to do with that time your friends skipped out on your birthday dinner at Buffalo Wild Wings to get drunk in a parking lot for St. Patrick's Day.
"OK, we'll be there in 20 minutes, for real this time ... 20 to 30. Better make it 30."
One study found that almost every mental illness was connected to what month you were born in -- if you were born in January, you're more likely to be schizophrenic or bipolar. But if you were born in the spring, you're far more likely to get depressed.
And the effects aren't minor -- the results of the study, which looked at every reported suicide in Great Britain over a 20-year period (about 27,000 total), found that people born in the spring were 17 percent more likely to commit suicide. The statistics were worse for women -- females born in April, May or June were 30 percent more likely to kill themselves than people born in the fall.
To be fair, people born in November, December and January get 24 percent fewer birthday gifts.
What the hell? Is it because babies born during the sunny, awesome spring months get the false idea that the world always looks like that, then six months later get bummed out by everything turning dead and brown? Because you'd think that they'd get over it after a few cycles. If there's a genetic component to it, what does that mean -- that depressed people are more fertile from August to October? That people with schizophrenia all start boning in April and May? We'd have heard something about that, wouldn't we?
The reality is that nobody is really sure what causes it. The researchers believe that it might have something to do with temperature, which can affect the way brain cells are arranged in a developing fetus. Babies are not microwave-safe, nor can they be kept in a refrigerator, but children born in the spring have experienced both extremes during their nine months in the womb. Or maybe it's that pregnant women eat different diets during the winter months, or that less time in the sun affects vitamin D levels. Or maybe it's, like, astrology or something.
4 Having an Older Dad
So it makes sense that what your mother does while pregnant affects how you turn out -- obviously there's a reason that pregnant women are told to abstain from alcohol, tobacco and kickboxing. Likewise, you probably already know that older mothers are at higher risk of all sorts of difficulties during pregnancy. But Dad seems to really get off the hook here. So, what, sperm is just invincible?
Nope, and in fact, if you have an older father, his ancient sperm makes you more likely to be born with autism or schizophrenia.
A study done in Iceland involving about 80 different sets of parents with no mental disorders who had given birth to autistic or schizophrenic children found that the risk of having a child with either affliction increased with the father's age (the mother's age had no effect). The reason for the increased risk is related to the way sperm is produced in a man's body -- sperm just kind of clones itself over and over again, like a Dilbert cartoon in an office Xerox machine.
"These simple witticisms are the only things keeping me from taking this whole place down in a cleansing bath of flame."
And as with a Xerox machine, each subsequent copy is a little less sharp than the previous one -- each generation of sperm has an increased chance of mutation over the last. While none of these are the bitching kind of mutations that let you shoot lasers out of your face, most are relatively harmless. However, some of these mutations have been linked to autism, schizophrenia and other mental disorders, a connection that was totally supported by the Icelandic study. Of the cases they examined, as many as 30 percent could be attributed to the snowy white Albert Einstein hairs beginning to sprout from the father's musty old beanbag.
The estimated risk is admittedly low (maybe about 2 percent for a man in his 40s), but the number of sperm mutations steadily increases with each passing year. For example, a 20-year-old father has about 25 genetic mutations swirling around in his gravy orbs. Once he hits 40, that number is around 65. While it is by no means a guarantee that older men will father autistic and/or schizophrenic children, parents are definitely rolling the dice each year that they wait.
The MSNBC version of this graph has dicks for the axes.