Scientists have long believed that since schizophrenia is associated with abnormal brain structure and functioning that a mothers’ stress during pregnancy could adversely affect brain development in the fetus, even causing mental illnesses such as schizophrenia. Now there is strong evidence to support these assumptions. According to a report in the Archives of General Psychiatry, people born to a mother who experienced the death of a relative during the first trimester of pregnancy have a 67% greater risk of developing schizophrenia.

The researchers looked at data from 1.38 million births in order to study the effects of highly stressful situations during pregnancy on the development of mental illness. Of these 1.38 million, 21,987 of the children were born to mothers who experienced the death of a relative during the first trimester of pregnancy and 14, 206 children were born to mothers who experienced a relative having a serious illness such as cancer. Of the 1.38 million, 7,331 of the children went on to develop schizophrenia. The study went on to say “the association between a family death and risk of schizophrenia appeared to be significant only for individuals without a family history (parents, grandparents or siblings) of mental illness”. In addition, the death of relative at six months before or any other time during pregnancy was not found to be related to the development of schizophrenia in offspring.