Knowing Your Family’s Mental Health History is Crucial

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In a recent Huffington Post article, Emmy-Award-winning science writer Victoria Costello tells the story of her son who, at seventeen, began to suffer “psychotic symptoms.” When she brought him to the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute, doctors recommended he stay there for one month for careful observation so that they could make a proper diagnosis. After all of the paperwork was done and her son was settled in his room, Costello sat down to speak with the psychiatrist about her family’s health history.

The psychiatrist asked questions about the cause of death of three generation’s worth of Costello’s immediate family. In this interview, she began to realize just how important an accurate and thorough family history of mental illness would be in helping to determine with what her son was struggling.

Costello notes: “Research also shows that the more close relatives a person has with depression, addictions, antisocial behavior or anxiety, the more likely he is to have one or more of these conditions and acquire it at a much younger age -- often before puberty.” These findings show just how important it is to be aware of and forthcoming with any information about a family history of mental illness. Costello believes that people who survive and pass on such a “family legacy” have a “special responsibility to break down this wall of silence.”

Costello concludes with the lesson she learned from her experience: “Put simply, knowing the size and type of genetic load you carry, including any mental disorders and addictions in your family's past can be life-saving for your children and grandchildren.”

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