Is Schizophrenia Hereditary?

Not many may have thought about the hereditary nature of schizophrenia. This article helps understand the role of genetics in the development of this mental illness.
PsycholoGenie Staff
Schizophrenia is a grave mental illness that encompasses a variety of symptoms used to diagnose the same. A person who has been affected by it, fails to function normally due to the effect on the brain. Thus, a person's physical and emotional abilities are altered, and their behavior becomes unnatural. While some people are able to overcome these disabilities with the help of therapy and medication, for some it is a long journey towards recovery, with the road being marked by different disturbing symptoms.

The Hereditary Nature of Schizophrenia

Studies have shown that one of the causes of this mental condition is its hereditary nature. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (USA), 10% of people having a first-degree relative affected by this mental disorder, i. e. a parent or a sibling are likely to develop this condition. Even those who have a second-degree relative affected by it, i. e. an aunt/uncle, a cousin, or a grandparent, are also at a greater risk. In short, if someone in the family is affected by this mental disorder, chances are that close family members are at a higher risk (almost 10%) of developing the same. Furthermore, those with an identical twin have a 45%-60% chance of developing this mental illness. Also, the malfunction of the gene that is involved with healthy brain function is also likely to result in the development of this disorder.

While the degree of susceptibility may vary, the chances exist nonetheless. However, it is important to note that the gene that causes this mental disorder rarely works on its own to induce the same. Moreover, on being exposed to other environmental factors or triggers, the susceptibility to develop this condition increases. The prolonged exposure of a person to a mentally disturbing situation may be one of the causes.
  • Prolonged stress can lead to the development of the symptoms of this condition. This means that while some people may be able to handle the stress, those who are genetically predisposed to develop this mental condition may be easily affected. For instance, during childhood, if a child has been severely abused, the stress caused by it is likely to cause this mental illness, more so, if he is genetically predisposed to the condition.
  • The use of drugs such as marijuana or continuous consumption of alcohol, is also responsible for the symptoms associated with this mental illness such as hallucinations and delusions.
  • Furthermore, brain injury may put one at the risk of development of this disorder.
  • Living in denial, or constantly avoiding problems in life, can also trigger the same.
There is a common belief that there is no link between biological and psychological conditions, and there has also been a constant debate about this regarding schizophrenia. However, it has to be understood that both these factors work together in triggering any kind of mental illnesses. As has been mentioned above, if the gene that causes this disorder is present among members of a family, chances are that it is slightly easier for psychological factors to cause this disorder. Thus, it is not completely hereditary, but definitely puts those who have family members affected by it at a higher risk.

Symptoms

The symptoms are often referred to same as that of psychosis, wherein the affected person loses touch with reality and lives in a delusional world. The symptoms may appear anywhere beginning in the late 20s, up to the age of 55 years. However, there have been cases where young children have also developed this condition. Though the symptoms may range from zombie-like behavior to brutal fits of rage, they can be broadly categorized into the following.
  • Hallucinations: An affected person is likely to experience hallucinations of sight, sound, smell, and touch. This means that they can be under the belief that someone is talking to them, guiding them to behave in a certain manner, or they can smell a foul stench or a beautiful fragrance, or see visions of people around them who they may talk to.
  • Delusions: Schizophrenics also experience delusions, where they may be under the belief that someone is out there to attack them, or hurt them. On the other hand, they may also experience delusions of grandeur, where they believe that they are the center of all the good that is happening.
Such symptoms often lead to confused behavior, that may cause each affected person to react differently. This means while an affected person may be pacified when explained that what they believe is baseless, another may throw a fit of rage and hurt himself and those around him. The rate of suicide is also high among them.

For this mental illness to be diagnosed, it is important that these symptoms be prominent for a minimum of one month. If one is suspicious about the possibility of the same, a psychiatrist would be able to confirm or rule out this belief by conducting a few tests. The sooner it is diagnosed, the easier it would be to treat the same. It is also important to remember that the presence of the gene that carries this condition cannot be determined by means of a DNA test.

Disclaimer: This PsycholoGenie article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.