Is Schizophrenia Inheritable?

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

I really need some advice. My fiancé and I are having a problem. His mom has come to visit us and she’s just not right.

He warned me before that his mom has bipolar but didn’t go into detail. For the first few days while here she was fine, it was wonderful! About five days in things began to change. It started with her not wanting to drink anything but sterilised water and no one else could open her water. That evening (the Friday) she woke us up in the night needing to make a phonecall. She phoned them while in our room and had an ordinary, 2 minute conversation and wondered out again. A few hours later she came in again saying she couldnt sleep in her room and wanted to sleep on the floor of ours. She slept without a mattress on the carpet.

The next day she was worse. She danced in the lounge for about an hour, staring out the window, changing all the lyrics of the beach boys to religious words (‘Help me God, help me get these things out of my head’). We took her to a wine farm and she brought a towel with her even though she didnt need it, and was confused about it later.

At the wine farm she kept getting frustrated if things didnt go her way (like she couldnt have the wine she wanted) and on the drive moaned constantly at my fiance for driving so fast (when he was driving so incredibly slowly) and made us listen to the same CD over and over. At one point she threatened to jump out the car and then cried for a while.

I can see in her face she is not herself. On Sunday we took her to the waterfront but before that she had to write a list of everything she had done since being in SA (my fiance’s sister believes this is because she thinks she is being poisoned as it went into great detail about food and drink and who had managed it – apparently the being poisoned fear is a common one with her). At the Waterfront she got quite mean, telling her daughter that she could see up her dress and it was disgusting and that her and I were going to get wrinkles cos we smile too much and that her daughter walks funny etc. Eventually she completely freaked out and shouted at us all to get away from her. You could see she was actually petrified of us.

In the car on the way home she eventually told me and my fiance that we sound just like his father and his new wife (who she doesnt like) and he got very irritated and we went home.

Apparently she has been diagnosed as bipolar and has medication, but she refuses to take it, saying it’s not her, it’s her kids.

I want to know, does this sound like bipolar behavior to you? Or is it more? Also, if someone won’t take their meds, how should we be behaving towards her and also, when she does go back, do you think it is safe for her to fly?

I’m also wondering, is this genetic, and if so, should we never have kids, or are there tests we can do?

A. It is difficult to know what her diagnosis may be but bipolar disorder or schizophrenia are realistic possibilities. Your fiancé’s mother does not seem well. She seems as though she is actively symptomatic. She seems paranoid and possibly is experiencing delusions or hallucinations. She may have those symptoms because she is not taking her medication.

Research has shown that approximately 50 percent of individuals with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia do not believe they have an illness and subsequently refuse treatment. If someone does not believe that they are ill, then refusing treatment seems logical to them. The problem is that they are clearly ill even if they aren’t aware. Unfortunately, individuals who are symptomatic suffer tremendously and so do their families who struggle with how to deal with a loved one who is clearly sick. It is a very difficult situation.

If someone isn’t taking their medication, then their family and friends should encourage them to do so. It can also be helpful to become actively involved in a loved one’s treatment, if possible. For instance, a close member of the family could offer to attend a doctor’s appointment with your fiancé’s mother, if she is agreeable.

You asked whether or not it is safe for her to fly alone. If she is actively symptomatic, then it would not be advisable. She might be okay but maybe not. I would not recommend it.

With regard to bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, scientists believe there is a genetic component. Scientists believe that there is a strong environmental component as well. Science has not determined the definitive causes of these mental illnesses.

Research shows that individuals who have relatives with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder are at a slight increased risk for developing one of these disorders. 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.

Don’t 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 12 May 2012

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2012). Is Schizophrenia Inheritable?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 21, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2012/05/12/is-schizophrenia-inheritable/