Q: My uncle has schizophrenia, and I am worried I may have it. Is schizophrenia a hereditary condition?
A: Schizophrenia is a mental disorder characterised by the patients' inability to tell the difference between what is real and what is not. Those diagnosed may suffer from auditory hallucinations, paranoia or abnormal emotional responses. No one knows the exact cause of schizophrenia, but there is definitely a genetic factor in many cases.
The risk of developing schizophrenia during one's lifetime is about one per cent for the general population. Having a family history of this illness increases the risk, but this risk is correlated to the closeness of the relationship to the affected person. First-degree relatives (parents and siblings) have the highest risk, but for more distant relatives, such as a cousin or an uncle, the risk is relatively low. You should not worry too much about developing schizophrenia just because an uncle has this illness. Your chances of not getting this illness are significantly higher than getting it.
Adrian Wang is a consultant psychiatrist at Dr Adrian Wang Psychiatric and Counselling Care, Gleneagles Medical Centre in Singapore