There already exists much evidence of low birth weights and pre-maturity among newborns of mothers that suffer stressful life events during pregnancy. "Chemicals released by the mother’s brain in response to stress may have an effect on the fetus’ developing brain. These effects may be strongest in early pregnancy, when protective barriers between the mother and fetus are not fully constructed."
Schizophrenia is believed to commence during early brain development; however environmental factors during a pregnancy may influence the risk of developing schizophrenia.
A study conducted by Ali S. Khashan of the University of Manchester suggests a likelihood of developing schizophrenia when a child’s mother experiences a stressful event during the first trimester of pregnancy.
The subjects in this study consisted of 1.38 million Danish births occurring between 1973 and 1995. A national registry was used to verify relatives of the mothers that either passed away or received a diagnosis of cancer, heart attack or stroke during the course of their pregnancy. Khashan found that during their pregnancies, the mothers of 21,987 children were exposed to the death of a relative, mothers of 14, 206 children were exposed to a relative receiving a diagnosis of cancer, heart attack or stroke, and most striking, 7,331 children observed had eventually developed schizophrenia.
Results illustrated a 67% greater risk of developing schizophrenia or other disorders when exposed to the death of a relative during the first trimester. Six months prior to pregnancy or any other time during the pregnancy held no significance in the development of schizophrenia. As well, the significance appeared only in those without a family history of mental illness.
Although, the study only assesses risk and is not suggesting any concrete findings, it would have been more informative to have knowledge the schizophrenics’ age at the end of the study in order to rule out any possible association with societal changes or social upheavals. Also, research on a more global perspective would certainly have supported the validity of the study. Overall however, this does provide a decent starting point for future research.