Penny Frese, PhD, was studying fine arts at Ohio University when she met her future husband. They saw each other for several months, and she noticed he avoided talking about anything personal. "We took a walk in a park, and it was toward the end of summer -- a gorgeous, beautiful day. I confronted him about not being totally honest … and he said he had had a 'schizophrenic break.'"
For some couples, that might have been the end. Frese went to the library and read up on schizophrenia. She learned...
Schizophrenia can sometimes run in families, but there isn't one specific gene that causes it. It may be a combination of many genes or genetic variations that may put some people at a higher risk. For others who get schizophrenia, there may be no signs of a family history of the illness.
It's possible that someone has genes linked to schizophrenia and then faces events that make them more likely to develop the disorder, says Julia Samton, MD, the director of Manhattan Neuropsychiatric PC in New York.
Some of these events are in your control and some aren't:
Pregnancy complications. Infection, stress, and complications during pregnancy such as preeclampsia have been linked to a greater risk.
Depression or other major stressors during pregnancy may also play a role. "A woman who experiences a death or other tragedy during pregnancy is also more likely to have a child at risk," Samton says.
Childhood experiences. Brain injury, sexual abuse, and traumatic early experiences may raise the risk.
"Children who were exposed to any trauma before age 16 were three times more likely to become psychotic," Samton says. If the trauma was severe, children were 50 times more likely.
Early use of illicit drugs. Early and long-term use of marijuana and other illicit drugs, such as opiates and stimulants, may be a factor in "unmasking" someone's risk for developing schizophrenia.
What to Do if Schizophrenia Runs in Your Family
Don't use drugs. This is especially important for teens. Exposure to chemicals may be toxic to the developing brain and bumps up risk of psychosis. Limit drinking of alcohol, too.
Avoid abusive or traumatic situations. Both may make you more likely to get psychosis and schizophrenia. If you're in an abusive relationship or you're going through trauma, get help.
Be social. A strong social network is important for good health. If you're at risk for schizophrenia, socializing also helps you maintain self-esteem, lower stress, not feel lonely, and keep busy. Teens, especially, should be encouraged to connect with friends and avoid isolation, Samton says.
It's important to set up healthy strategies to manage stress, says Cheryl Corcoran, MD, a research scientist at Columbia University's New York State Psychiatric Institute. You can do this in therapy or learn from your parents, teachers, or other role models who seem to manage stress well.