Genetic and family counselling for schizophrenia: Where do we stand now?

Johannes L. Roos


Background: Recent genetic findings have led to profound changes in genetic and family counselling for schizophrenia patients and their families.

Objectives: The article gives an overview of the present knowledge regarding the genetic and family counselling for schizophrenia.

Method: Literature searches were performed on the MEDLINE database (2011–2015) and African Healthline. A current alert service which provides the most recent literature on the topic on a monthly basis was also used in the study. A clinical case example is presented as is experienced in daily psychiatric practice.

Results: Genetic risk communication has become the responsibility of the multiprofessional treatment team, moving away from specialists in the field. The treatment team provides information on a daily basis regarding risk predictors in the management of schizophrenia, including risk of relapse, suicide and comorbid substance use. Although genetic information is unique and has implications for blood relatives, genetic risk factors only rarely provide information that is inherently different from that provided by other risk predictors commonly used in healthcare. The common variant common disease and rare variant common disease models as contrasting hypothesis of the genetics of schizophrenia are discussed and debated. An example of a family counselled is given and the place of commercial companies that offer directly to the consumer affordable personal DNA testing for psychiatric illness is discussed. Ethical issues without resolution regarding genetic counselling of schizophrenia are debated.

Conclusions: Recent genetic findings must lead to profound changes in genetic and family counselling in schizophrenia. Exposed attributable risk has immediate effects on genetic counselling of schizophrenia. Psychiatric risk counselling has thus changed from risk estimates based on family history to estimates based on test results in specific individuals.

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Submitted: 28 April 2015
Published: 06 May 2016

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South African Journal of Psychiatry    |    ISSN: 1608-9685 (PRINT)    |    ISSN: 2078-6786 (ONLINE)