Psych Doc: Can schizophrenia run in the family?

My boyfriend’s mother has schizophrenia. We have been talking about getting married and having children. I’m concerned about the chances that we could have a child who would develop schizophrenia.

Schizophrenia is a serious neurobiologic disorder in which a person’s brain functioning is affected so that they experience a number of different symptoms, including symptoms of psychosis. Psychosis means a loss of touch with reality. Psychotic symptoms include hearing voices or seeing things which aren’t really there (hallucinations), having bizarre and/or disorganized speech or behavior, having unusual thoughts, paranoia, or delusional ideas, and being socially isolated, withdrawn, and unmotivated.

Yes, there definitely seems to be a genetic component for some forms of schizophrenia. The general risk for developing schizophrenia is one percent for the population at large (one in a hundred people will develop some form of schizophrenia over the course of their lifetimes). For an identical twin, the risk is about 50 percent, while for first-degree relatives (a son or daughter, a sibling) the risk is about 10-15 percent. For a second-degree relative (niece or nephew, grandchild), the risk appears to be about 5 percent.

Basic theory what is interpersonal communication skill 300x300 Psych Doc: Can schizophrenia run in the family?

Psych Doc: Can schizophrenia run in the family?

Many researchers now believe that in certain cases, a child can inherit a genetic risk or vulnerability for schizophrenia, but that this must interact with other factors in order for the full-blown disorder to develop. Some of these additional risk factors appear to include: injuries to the fetus while it is developing in the mother’s uterus (such as malnutrition in the mother, or a severe viral illness that affects mother and fetus), prolonged difficulties during labor and delivery, severe childhood illnesses or fevers, head trauma, and substance abuse. If a genetically “at-risk” individual encounters these additional factors, he or she increases the likelihood of developing schizophrenia during adolescence or early adulthood.

This is just a long way of saying that although your children might have a higher chance of getting schizophrenia than someone without the same genetic background, there are probably factors that can help to reduce their risk of developing the illness. A healthy pregnancy, good prenatal care, a well-supervised labor and delivery, and attention to the child’s development, including watching out for trauma and substance use, can all help to promote healthy brain functioning.

In a way we don’t fully understand, there seem to be some other protective factors also for schizophrenia (and probably for mental illness in general): helping a child learn to develop and maintain good interpersonal relationships with peers, helping a child learn that it is important and fulfilling to have friends and to interact with others, and providing overall psychosocial stability and reduced stress for a youngster all seem to lessen a person’s risk for developing schizophrenia.

Finally, as someone who has worked with people who have schizophrenia and their families for many years, I think it’s important to pay attention to something we observe a lot even though we don’t have good research on it: having a family member with schizophrenia sometimes seems to indicate a genetic tendency to unusual or creative or innovative thinking. I personally know of a number of top-notch scientists who have a sibling or a child with schizophrenia. James Joyce and Albert Einstein both had daughters with schizophrenia, while Kurt Vonnegut had a son with schizophrenia.

The information contained in or made available through This Site cannot replace or substitute for the services of trained professionals in the medical field. We do not recommend any treatment, drug, food or supplement. You should regularly consult a doctor in all matters relating to physical or mental health, particularly concerning any symptoms that may require diagnosis or medical attention.

Subscribe Scroll to Top