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16Dec2012
Will I Be Schizophrenic?

Question:

Hi Dr. Raj,

My father was diagnosed Schizophrenic; does this mean I will be Schizophrenic?

Answer:

Let’s begin with what Schizophrenia is; Schizophrenia is a mental illness that presents as a few different subtypes; it belongs to the group of disorders we refer to as “Psychotic Disorders”; what psychosis simply means is “a break with reality”; thus, if someone is experiencing auditory hallucinations (hearing voices without any stimulus in the environment) or believes that the FBI or CIA is following them when they are not, we would say that he or she is “psychotic”; Schizophrenia has an incidence rate of 1% world wide; what this means is you can take 1% of any population and estimate what the expected number of individuals with Schizophrenia would be; thus, it a very serious and not so uncommon mental illness.

Now, let’s turn to understanding how it works if your parents have certain diseases and what that means for you; we inherit 50% of our genetic material from each of our parents; the body uses this as a blueprint to build proteins that the body needs similar to how an architect uses a blueprint when building a house; you can imagine that if there is an error in the blueprint that then will carry over to an error in the house and cause a problem; well, in the same way, if we have an error in the blueprint that the cells of our body use, it can cause a problem as well; so, in regards to Schizophrenia, there are problems in the “blueprint” that the body is uses; however, just having the error in the blueprint does not seem to always cause the disease; if you take two identical twins (same exact blueprint) that have parents with Schizophrenia, you will find about 50% of the twins get the disease even though they both have the exact same blueprint.

Thus, what this means is that you need both the problem with the blueprint as well an environmental factor which then triggers the disease; we are not clear as to the exact nature of the triggers but stress in general seems to bring out our vulnerabilities; so to answer your question, you do have a genetic risk or predisposition greater than someone who does not have a Schizophrenic parent; however, even with the genetic predisposition, you are not necessarily going to get the disease; I would suggest developing a good working relationship with a therapist with whom you can learn coping strategies to prevent stress in your life from building up.

Do you remember, that old question about which straw broke the camels back; the usual answer is “The last one”; but if you really think about it, it’s the SUM TOTAL of all the straws. Thus, don’t let the straws of your life accumulate.

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