Consanguineous marriages and schizophrenia
THE GENETIC origins of schizophrenia are well recognized. However, systematic studies of the offspring of such persons are required to enable early detection and plan intervention.
Nearly 100 children born to parents with schizophrenia were examined in great detail including psychiatric and cognitive aspects and compared to an equal number of age and sex matched group of children born to normal parents.
The study was undertaken by researchers at Schizophrenia Research Foundation (SCARF), Chennai, supported by the Sir Dorabjee Tata Trust, Mumbai.
According to Dr. R. Thara, Director of SCARF, those with at least one of the parents with the illness had many more behavioural problems, difficulties in going to school, and did poorly in their studies compared with the control group.
These differences were all statistically significant. In families where children displayed some abnormalities, a lot of time was spent to train the normal parent to look out for core symptoms of mental disorders. A series of interventions and follow-up are being planned for these children.
A number of families with two or more siblings suffering from schizophrenia were studied in great detail at SCARF in association with the University of Queensland, Australia.
As popularly believed, consanguinity does not seem to have played a role in causing schizophrenia. This is brought out by the fact that consanguineous marriages resulted in the same incidence of schizophrenia as nonconsanguineous ones. Out of a total of 176 families studied, 76 were without any familial incidence of schizophrenia.
The remaining 100 had atleast one schizophrenic parent. It was found that the number of consanguineous families was higher in the 76 families without schizophrenia (20 per cent) compared to 10 per cent in the 100 families with the illness.
The severity of the illness however seems to be similar in the siblings affected and this is true of the resultant disability as well. One of the strongest prejudices against mental illness is the fear of violence by mentally ill, inspite of poor scientific evidence.
Stigma against mental disorders has been well documented in India. Mental disorders and violence are closely linked in the public mind. Sensational reporting by the media and the projection of the mentally ill in the field of entertainment perpetuate this perception.
“Some mentally ill patients may be violent, but the image of a mentally ill person as essentially violent is erroneous and unfounded,” said Dr. Thara.
Are patients suffering from schizophrenia more violent than people with other medical problems? A recent study undertaken at SCARF has once again proved that mentally ill patients were not any more violent than those with chronic medical problems like diabetes, hypertension or arthritis.
The study showed that the nature of violence in many was exhibition of verbal aggressiveness.
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