Is schizophrenia genetic?

There is a history of schizophrenia in my family and I'm worried that it's hereditary - can you enlighten me?

It sounds like you are worried that because people in your family have had schizophrenia, you may develop it too. Understandably this must be concerning for you, hopefully having a little more information will help. Remember if you’re worried about your mental health the best person to talk to is your GP.

Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness, and for those experiencing it, can be very isolating and debilitating. It’s known as a psychotic illness, meaning that a person with schizophrenia may experience delusions, hallucinations and disordered thoughts. They may have little insight into their illness and commonly do not recognise that they are ill.

Psychiatrists diagnose cases of schizophrenia on the grounds of two groups of symptoms. These are called ‘positive symptoms’ (such as delusions, hearing voices and chaotic behaviour, such as shouting for no apparent reason); and ‘negative symptoms’ (such as loss of motivation and disordered thoughts).

Although there is a lot of research into schizophrenia it is hard to tell if it’s hereditary and the causes still remain generally unknown. It is believed to be caused by a combination of both genetic and social factors individual to the person’s circumstances. For example, someone’s genetic make-up could put them at a higher risk, but stressful life events could trigger onset of the symptoms.

Schizophrenia can run in families, which does suggest a genetic link. Research shows that one in 100 people develop schizophrenia across the UK population but and this risk increases by 10% if a parent had schizophrenia. However, it seems that there could be many different genes involved and scientists have not yet developed a clear picture of how the condition can be passed on. Just because a member of your family has had schizophrenia it doesn’t mean you will develop it.

Other factors to take into consideration include substance misuse (known as drug induced psychosis), stress, family problems and childhood deprivation or abuse.

Whilst schizophrenia can seem scary, it can be treated with a combination of anti-psychotic medication and a talking treatment such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). One in four people with the illness completely recover within five years. For most others, symptoms can be decreased and wellbeing improved at different levels. In fact, many people with schizophrenia will never have to go into hospital and are able to settle down, work and have lasting relationships.

Just to let you know, SANELINE is a national mental health helpline offering confidential emotional support and information to anyone experiencing mental health problems. They will be able to give you the time and space to talk about any concerns you may have, or simply offer further information. If you feel this could help, you could call them on 0845 767 8000

Answered by SANE on 06-Nov-2013

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