Children whose parents have either schizophrenia or bipolar disorder are at high risk for psychopathology.  There are genetic factors which influence vulnerability to illness, but environmental influences also play a role.  Data presented at the 28th European College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ECNP) Congress in Amsterdam (reviewed in Medscape) suggest that  psychopathology in this group of children may emerge relatively early and may predict more severe illness in adulthood.

This study included 35 offspring of parents with schizophrenia and 77 offspring of parents with bipolar disorder, participants in the Dutch Bipolar and Schizophrenia Offspring Study. Clinical variables and neuroimaging parameters were assessed in the two high risk groups and were compared with those in a control group of 45 normal community-dwelling children.

The mean age of all three groups was approximately 13 years.   The schizophrenia offspring had a very high lifetime prevalence of psychopathology (ranging from mild anxiety to major mood disorder), around 70%, compared to a lifetime prevalence of about 50% in the bipolar disorder offspring and 15% to18% in the control group.  Among children from either high-risk group, the risk of having a DSM-IV axis I diagnosis for any mood disorder was approximately 25%.

The next step is identifying factors — behavioral, environmental, or neurobiological — that will help clinicians predict which children are at greatest risk for severe recurrent illness.

Ruta Nonacs, MD PhD

Risk for Psychopathology High in Kids of Mentally Ill Parents (Medscape – free subscription)