Public Release: 

Researchers find troubling offshoot of schizophrenia

Children of parents with schizophrenia need more sources of support, study finds

University of Alberta

New research from the University of Alberta shows that most of the support programs available for family members of schizophrenics are geared towards adults--the siblings, parents, or spouses of individuals with schizophrenia--and the children are overlooked.

"People with schizophrenia can exhibit symptoms such as auditory hallucinations, delusions of paranoia, mood swings, an inability to experience pleasure, an inability to initiate activity, and an inability to show feeling," said Agitha Valiakalayil, a researcher working on the Edmonton High Risk Project, a schizophrenia research initiative at the U of A.

"The quality of the relationship these individuals have with their children can suffer because of this, but the children often don't understand why and can grow up feeling a lack of warmth, trust, or closeness to their parent," added Valiakalayil, whose research was published this summer in Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology.

"When someone has cancer, you don't blame the illness on the person. But when someone has schizophrenia, most people, and especially children, tend to attribute features of the illness to the person's personality. There is a lack of understanding that it is a treatable brain disorder," she explained.

Schizophrenia affects one per cent of the general population, and about 10 to 15 per cent of people with one schizophrenic parent will develop the disease. The number goes up to 40 per cent if both parents have the illness. Males generally begin to show signs of the disease in their early to late teens, while females show signs in their late teens or early twenties, although the illness can develop later in life in both males and females.

Other studies have shown that children of parents with schizophrenia are vulnerable to developing interpersonal difficulties later in life. There is often a lasting painful emotional legacy that can result in psychological problems as an adult. The results of these studies underscore the need to help children of parents with schizophrenia cope with the illness, Valiakalayil said.


The lead researcher of this study, Dr. Philip Tibbo, can be reached at 407-7119 or His assistant, Agitha Valiakalayil, can be reached at

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