Schizophrenia is one of the most stigmatized mental disorders and is often associated with high levels of guilt, self-blame, and shame within families.
Experts have been hopeful that recent genetic and brain-based models of schizophrenia would help get rid of old theories that portrayed the family (particularly the mother) as a strong factor in developing schizophrenia.
For the first time, researchers in this study analyzed how relatives of people with schizophrenia talk about genes to explain the presence of schizophrenia in the family. The researchers wanted to see whether “gene talk” helped alleviate parents’ self-blame, especially that of mothers.
“The study is the first piece of research to explore the complex ways in which ‘gene talk’ is used by family members of someone with a diagnosis of schizophrenia. It challenges the commonly expressed view that genetic accounts of mental illness will absolve family members’ sense of guilt and blame in relation to their relative’s diagnosis,” said Felicity Callard, Ph.D., visiting researcher at the National Institute for Health Research Biomedical Research Centre.
“We should be far less optimistic that genetic accounts of schizophrenia will reduce family members’ guilt. It is also not clear whether family members want to embrace straightforwardly biological models of schizophrenia. All too often, the potential role of difficult family events is assumed to be taboo when discussing the causes of schizophrenia, but we found that family members are ready to have these challenging conversations,” she added.
By Traci Pedersen