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Question
Posted by: Mitch | 2010/05/17

Mental illness - tracing the problem through the patients children.

My girlfriends Mother has been unstable for years after a divorce which she took very badly. But they got divorced due to the fact that she had started drinking a lot and eventually the downward spiral ended up with her setting the house on fire. her Moms sister also has a history of instability and was institutionalised in Switzerland as she started to show signs of " stigmata"  so they put her in the home as they thought she may be a danger to herself, which proved correct as she recently jumped out of a window killing herself. I am concerned by the fact that it could be a mental illnesss and that it may be hereditary seeeing that her mom and her aunt are both a bit unstable. My question is:
would one be able to trace what is happening to her Mom and her sister through one of the kids ( two sons and the daughter) ?

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Our expert says:
Expert ImageCyberShrink

The divorce may have been very upsetting, but the excessive drinking is probably the main culprit. But that, in turn, can create worse problems in someone already genetically predisposed to perhaps some form of severe mental illness, perhaps a psychotic / schizophrenic illness.

Now, I understand your concerns about whether there is a hereditable facor at work here.

Several points occur to me.

One - what is really needed is a good sound diagnosis for the aunt and the mother - inheritability varies between different conditions.

Secondly, there is no certainty about inheriting such disorders - all of us, and every child born has some small risk of developing all sorts of disorders. The more relatives in the family who have the same type of disorder, the more the degree of risk a child might have, but it would still be far from certain. It also depends on of course BOTH parents - where both mom and dad have a serious illness, the risk to their children will be reasonably high ; with only one parent affected, less so. With grandmothers, etc., less so - and if the family history is only on the one parents side - in your story it sounds as though this is all mon the mother's side of the family, then the risk is lower than if it occures in BOTH sides of the family.

Once the diagnosis for the two people immediately know, the mother and aunt, is clear, a good psychiatrist or geneticist could give an estimate of whether there is a high enough risk to be concerned or not. Fortunately, it will probably NOT be a reason for major concern.

Depending on the form of illness / diagnosis, there might be some things one could do to lessen the risk, but often not, other than advising the kids as they grow up to avoid insults to the brain such as alcohol and social drugs.

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Our users say:
Posted by: cybershrink | 2010/05/17

The divorce may have been very upsetting, but the excessive drinking is probably the main culprit. But that, in turn, can create worse problems in someone already genetically predisposed to perhaps some form of severe mental illness, perhaps a psychotic / schizophrenic illness.

Now, I understand your concerns about whether there is a hereditable facor at work here.

Several points occur to me.

One - what is really needed is a good sound diagnosis for the aunt and the mother - inheritability varies between different conditions.

Secondly, there is no certainty about inheriting such disorders - all of us, and every child born has some small risk of developing all sorts of disorders. The more relatives in the family who have the same type of disorder, the more the degree of risk a child might have, but it would still be far from certain. It also depends on of course BOTH parents - where both mom and dad have a serious illness, the risk to their children will be reasonably high ; with only one parent affected, less so. With grandmothers, etc., less so - and if the family history is only on the one parents side - in your story it sounds as though this is all mon the mother's side of the family, then the risk is lower than if it occures in BOTH sides of the family.

Once the diagnosis for the two people immediately know, the mother and aunt, is clear, a good psychiatrist or geneticist could give an estimate of whether there is a high enough risk to be concerned or not. Fortunately, it will probably NOT be a reason for major concern.

Depending on the form of illness / diagnosis, there might be some things one could do to lessen the risk, but often not, other than advising the kids as they grow up to avoid insults to the brain such as alcohol and social drugs.

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