Is Schizophrenia Hereditary?

My mother is a schizophrenic with severe depression. She is institutionalized. I never grew up with her but I am aware of her now. I have always feared that this disease was hereditary. Is it? Sometimes I forget things or I feel as if I am losing it, and I don't know if it is just a mental thing because I know about my mom.

Wendy

Question:

There may be some biological predisposition to schizophrenia, but that doesn't necessarily mean the disorder is hereditary. Even when disorders such as depression or bipolar disorder (formerly called manic-depression) seem to run in families, it's not clear -- at least, to psychologists, who tend not to adhere as strictly to a medical model of mental illness as do psychiatrists -- how much is genetically based and how much is passed down behaviorally through family dysfunction.

For instance, a depressed parent may not be able to emotionally take care of his or her children or provide a role model for managing emotions. A psychotic parent may be neglectful or abusive to his or her children and inadvertently teach them a distorted approach to reality and relationships with others.

There also may well be an interaction between biological predisposition and environmental factors in disorders such as schizophrenia and depression. That is, some people may be born with a predisposition to a type of disorder, but not develop it unless they experience severe stress or some type of trauma, especially during their formative years. The role of trauma such as childhood abuse in the development of psychotic disorders is not well understood. A recent study found that almost all psychiatric inpatients with psychotic disorders reported trauma earlier in life.

One option in your situation is to talk with a psychologist face-to-face about what you're experiencing (occasional forgetfulness or feeling like you're "losing it") and your fears about inheriting your mother's illnesses. If what you're experiencing is related to stress, for instance, the psychologist can help allay your fears and discuss ways to lessen and manage the stress in your life. Good luck.

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