Children of Schizophrenic Moms at Risk

Depression and anxiety may precede the onset of disease in offspring. The children of 28 schizophrenic women showed that 89 percent of the children displayed symptoms of at least one mental health disorder.

By Jason Williams, published on May 1, 2003 - last reviewed on January 23, 2015

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.

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.