Adopting a child with a risk of schizophrenia

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Author: 
Harriet Fancott
Source: 
Focus on Adoption magazine
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Of the 650 children available for adoption through the Ministry, roughly 15 to 20 percent have a genetic psychiatric risk of mental illness such as a mental disability, schizophrenia, manic depression, or a personality disorder. In December, 2001, 77 children (or 16.5 %) carried this risk.

Few applicants are interested in adopting children with a risk of schizophrenia. In February, the Ministry had somewhere between five and ten approved families.

Here is a brief explanation of "genetic risk factors" and "risk ranges" as they apply to schizophrenia from a medical consult for the Ministry. "Genetic factors are only part of the answer to the cause of schizophrenia, and their contribution is complex and incompletely understood [genetic research has not identified a hereditary gene for schizophrenia]. Nevertheless, if one member of a family is schizophrenic, other blood relatives are at increased risk of the disease compared with the general population. The following estimates were adapted from a number of studies in different areas, times, and definitions. The true risk may be higher or lower than the range as quoted, but the general pattern should hold, in that the risk declines as blood relationship becomes more distant."

Risk Range of Developing Schizophrenia

Children of two schizophrenic parents: 36.6-46.3%0
Children of one schizophrenic parent: 12.3-13.9%
Nephew or niece of a schizophrenic person: 2.2-2.6 %
Unrelated general population: 0.7-0.9%

An exact explanation of schizophrenia evades researchers, but symptoms are well documented. Sufferers may experience hallucinations where they hear voices or see visions, delusions (paranoid or otherwise), thought disorders (illogical thinking), or an altered sense of self (a sensation of bodilessness). As well, they may experience intense apathy, blunted feelings, depression (that can lead to suicide), and social withdrawal. Some lead functioning lives, while others need greater help to cope with the burden of symptoms. It's worth noting that the disease is widely misunderstood, often confused with multiple personality disorder, and still carries a social stigma. For men, the age of onset is usually between 16 and 24; for women, between 20 and 30.

Treatment usually entails both medication and supportive counselling. We are in the midst of an explosion in knowledge in the neurosciences, and research into mental illness is at an all time high, which bodes well for future treatment regimes. As well, early diagnosis and stabilization and modern treatment greatly improve prognosis for the illness. In this regard, adoptive families and their "at risk" children are at a great advantage. They can watch for warning signs and respond appropriately to the symptoms, should they occur, earlier rather than later. It is also worth noting that since there is no identified gene for schizophrenia, it's entirely possible (albeit unproven) that a functioning, educated, and supportive adoptive family could be the ideal situation for an "at risk" child.

Resources

British Columbia Schizophrenia Society (BCSS) has many chapters across BC.
Head Office: #201 – 6011 Westminster Highway, Richmond, BC V7C 4V4
Phone: 604-270-7841
Website: www.bcss.org

www.mentalhealth.com
www.schizophreniadigest.com
www.hope.vancouver.bc.ca