If you have been diagnosed with schizophrenia, you have many things to think and worry about. If you have children, concerns for them are probably the first thoughts you have. How will this diagnosis affect their lives? Are they going to be schizophrenic too? Yes, your mental illness diagnosis will affect them, and yes there is now an increased chance that any of your children will also have this disorder. But, it is not guaranteed, and in fact, the risk might be lower than you think.
What is Schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is a disorder of the brain characterized by abnormal interpretations and perceptions of reality. Schizophrenics have disrupted thought processes and have poor emotional responses. Because they misinterpret reality, they are often paranoid and confused. They also experience hallucinations (mostly auditory) and delusions. Their thinking, speech, and behavior are typically disorganized and confused. The disorder is chronic and needs lifelong treatment.
Because of the paranoia, confused thought, hallucinations, and delusions, schizophrenics display several resulting symptoms: neglecting personal hygiene, loss of interest in activities, social withdrawal, a seeming lack of emotions, trouble with memory and focus, and difficulty understanding information or how to perform tasks.
Most commonly, schizophrenia first begins in men in their twenties and in women in their twenties or thirties. It is possible for the disorder to begin at earlier ages, but it is unusual. It almost never shows up in those over the age of 45.
What Causes Schizophrenia?
There is no single known cause of this disorder, but research over many years suggests that there are several contributing factors, which can be categorized as genetic or environmental. There are connections between family members with schizophrenia, so doctors and researchers know that there is some genetic connection to the disorder. There are probably several different genes involved in producing schizophrenia and researchers have found an overlap of these genes with those that produce another mental illness, bipolar disorder.
Environmental factors also seem to play a role in schizophrenia. Although the connections are not well understood, there are several things that increase the odds of having the disorder: living in an urban environment, being socially isolated, having a dysfunctional family, and living in squalid conditions. Drug use also seems to contribute to the chances of having schizophrenia. Although still a controversial idea, some researchers see a connection between use of cannabis, cocaine, and amphetamines and having schizophrenia. Developmental factors also increase the odds of having the disorder. These include infection, malnutrition, and hypoxia in the mother while pregnant.
The Family Connection
Although the relationship between genes and schizophrenia is complex, intertwined with bipolar disorder, and not yet fully understood, researchers have been able to ferret out the odds of having schizophrenia when family members are diagnosed with it. According to the National Institutes of Health, ten percent of people with a parent or sibling diagnosed with schizophrenia will also have it. These are called first-order relatives and means that your child has a ten percent chance of developing the disorder as a result of you having it.
Among those with a second-degree relative (cousins, grandparents, aunts, or uncles) having schizophrenia, the chances of having the disorder are reduced, but still greater than in the general population. The National Comorbidity Survey from Harvard University puts the number for the general population at just under one percent.
For an identical twin whose twin is schizophrenic, the odds are highest, at between 40 and 60 percent, which most clearly indicates a genetic component to the causes of the disorder. However, if genes were the only cause, that number would be 100 percent. This means that other factors play a role in producing schizophrenia in a person.
Although you are naturally concerned about your children in the wake of your schizophrenia diagnosis, it is important to understand that the statistics are on their side. Unless your spouse also has the disorder, their chances of having it are still very low. A ten percent chance of developing schizophrenia means that there is a 90 percent chance they will not have it. Because there are other factors playing a role aside from genetics, eliminating those can increase their odds of having schizophrenia.
What is most important now, rather than worrying about a diagnosis for your children, is getting treatment for yourself. Having this disorder will surely impact your children, but you can minimize the effects by getting the best treatment plan you can and by sticking with it.