schizophrenia, developmental psychopathology
Suzanne King has been a Professor of Psychiatry at McGill University and Principle Investigator in the Psychosocial Research Division at the Douglas Hospital Research Centre since 1991. Her early work on schizophrenia investigated the associations between the course of schizophrenia and family attitudes towards the patient (Expressed Emotion). In more recent work, The EnviroGen Project investigates the ways in which risk factors for schizophrenia, such as genetics, prenatal stress, obstetric complications, childhood trauma and adolescent cannabis use, influence the symptom presentations of people with schizophrenia as well as in “healthy” community controls. Taking advantage of a local natural disaster to examine the effects of prenatal stress prospectively, King and her team have been following more than 150 women who were pregnant at the time of the January 1998 ice storm, along with their babies. Project Ice Storm has shown that the severity of the mother’s stress and the timing in gestation explain variance in cognitive, behavioural and physical development of the offspring. The effects of prenatal exposure are still present in the children at age 11½ years. A second prenatal maternal stress study of 300 women who experienced the severe flooding of June 2008, The Iowa Flood Study, aims to replicate Project Ice Storm, and includes a sample of women whose psychosocial risk factors and functioning had been assessed before the flooding, making this the world’s first pre-post trauma study of pregnant humans. Finally, the QF2011 Queensland Flood Study of pregnant women includes pre-flood psychosocial data, a randomized control trial of two midwifery models, and biological samples from birth for nearly 300 Australian women. Dr. King plans to integrate the results from her prospective and retrospective studies into a neurodevelopmental model of major mental illness.