Children of Schizophrenic Moms at Risk

The children of schizophrenic women may have more to worry about than developing schizophrenia. Research conducted by the Swedish High-Risk Project, a 22-year study of schizophrenic mothers and their offspring, suggests that these kids are more likely than other children to develop mental health problems such as depression and anxiety during young adulthood.

In the study the children of 28 schizophrenic women showed that 89 percent of the children displayed symptoms of at least one mental health disorder. This rate is 13 times that of children of mothers without the disorder, according to lead author Erland W. Schubert, Ph.D., a researcher in the department of psychiatric epidemiology at Lund University in Sweden.

Among the children with schizophrenic mothers, 40 percent had symptoms of depression compared with only 12 percent in the control group. Schubert and his colleagues suggest that depression and other mental disorders may act as precursors to the onset of schizophrenia. The investigators hope that by studying children with schizophrenic parents they might identify early warning signs of the disorder that will allow for earlier treatment.

Find a Therapist

Search for a mental health professional near you.

Dale Johnson, Ph.D., a psychology professor at the University of Houston, Texas, who has studied schizophrenia and its impact on families, says finding a reliable precursor to the onset of schizophrenia is the key to successful intervention. "Early treatment, and intensive treatment, seems to reduce the level of disability," Johnson says. "The stage before the big symptoms hit is the time for treatment."

In the general population, there is a 1 percent risk of developing schizophrenia during an individual's lifetime. However, for children who have a parent with the disease, the risk jumps to 10 to 15 percent. Schizophrenia is a genetic disorder that often develops in late adolescence or early adulthood. Irrational thinking, delusions, hallucinations and social withdrawal characterize the disease.

The findings were published in the May issue of the journal Archives of General Psychiatry.

Current Issue

Just Say It

When and how should we open up to loved ones?