Psych Central

Can You Inherit Mental Illness?

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

I was diagnosed with schizoaffective at 15. I am 21 now. Though I had psychotic features diagnosed before that age. Im trying to figure out my past for my diagnosis.

My mother, I do not know if she has a diagnosis of anything but I strongly doubt she doesn’t. She has a history of from teenage years for being reckless, promiscuous, using illegal substances, etc. Also has many times kind of seemed psychotic in my lifetime. I highly doubt that was the only times in her life. Her beliefs are very strong in the paranormal ideas; past lives, ghosts, psychic things, a lot of other stuff like that. She devotes much of her time to reading and watching and sometimes practicing weird stuff regarding paranormal things. She tells me weird things since I was a child. For example, I said I was scared recently about nightmares from a past hospital stay and she told me I need to be careful because my situation was like how prisoners of war were kept and tortured against their will and they were locked up forever. Though she lies to me about her past and i find out from other family members. Theres been times i’ve heard of her past and experienced in my life where she’s been not functional enough to be ok. She scares me a lot and always has put fear in me from a young age.

My father is really functional and has gotten far in life. He is really intelligent. Though is very odd. He is semi-reclusive. Talks to himself sometimes but doesn’t hear voices or anything im sure. He is pretty religious. He also has beliefs that are kind of odd. Like about the end of the world. He is also not really trusting about the government. Well…severely not trusting. The only thing I truly believe he has is depression, from recent life issues though.

My question is, even though my parents aren’t diagnosed with anything psychotic, that I know of, at least my father. Genetically, is there any chance from what i’ve said I could have inherited something from them that has me schizoaffective, even though they aren’t diagnosed with anything psychotic…at least my father? My mother isn’t really truthful. She seems more like a bipolar or BPD type though. My diagnoses is a depressive subtype though. They both have some schizophrenic tendencies I believe.

A. It is possible that you inherited “schizophrenia tendencies” from your parents but I can’t answer that question with absolute certainty. What causes schizophrenia has yet to be determined. The prevailing theory is that schizophrenia is a brain disease. It is also believed, by many scientists and researchers, that stress and environment can play a major role in the development of schizophrenia.

Though the exact cause has not been pinpointed, it has been established that individuals who have relatives with schizophrenia have an increased risk for the development of the disorder. It is important to note that the increased risk is slight. Having a relative with the disease in no way guarantees that other family members will develop it. Again, the risk is slight and its development depends on many factors.

It is also important to note that even if your parents were never diagnosed with a particular mental health disorder, they could still be mentally ill. In fact, many people have undiagnosed mental health disorders.

What I find encouraging about your situation is your awareness of your symptoms and your willingness to seek treatment. Research shows that at least 50 percent of individuals with schizophrenia don’t know they have the illness and thus never seek treatment. It is that particular subgroup who typically has a worse prognosis. With treatment you can expect a good prognosis. Factors associated with a good prognosis include:

  • Being female
  • Awareness of illness
  • Willingness to seek treatment
  • Compliant with treatment
  • Having a strong support system
  • Having a good working relationship with your treatment team

Do not hesitate to write again if you have additional questions. Please take care.

Dr. Kristina Randle

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 28 Feb 2012

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2012). Can You Inherit Mental Illness?. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 23, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2012/02/28/can-you-inherit-mental-illness/

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