If someone has a family history of cancer, they probably undergo early screenings because of their genetic risk. Likewise, when someone has a close family member with a rare genetic disease, or even cardiovascular disease or diabetes, they may be more sensitive to factors that will increase their already heightened risk for these diseases. However, disclosure of the actual risk is different than testing for the risk. When it comes to psychological illnesses, many people do not undergo screenings for illnesses merely because of a family history.
But in studies assessing risk for psychological conditions, risk is identified, but not always disclosed. This is particularly true in the case of schizophrenia. Reasons for this vary, but some believe that disclosure of risk could do more harm than good. Not all risk means onset of illness will ultimately occur, and not all people who are at high risk for schizophrenia, depression, bipolar or other mental health issues will be confident that their illness will be properly treated. So the question remains, is it better to disclose risk of schizophrenia or other illnesses, or not?
To answer this question, Roni G. Adler of the Department of Psychology at the University of Otago in New Zealand recently led a study that evaluated people’s anticipation and retrospective reaction to knowing their risk for specific health issues. In one study, Adler evaluated 114 college students and instructed them to detail how they would react if they found out they were at risk for diabetes, cancer, depression, or schizophrenia. Then, the participants noted whether they would want to find out their true risk for schizophrenia.
The results revealed that the anticipated reaction to having schizophrenia was equal to the anticipated reaction of having cancer, but less stressful than that for diabetes or depression. But even though over 80% of the participants expressed a desire to know their risk, only 11% were willing to have the testing done, perhaps due to fear. In a second study, 144 participants had saliva samples taken prior to and after receiving news of risk for these same illnesses. The participants were more distressed prior to finding out than after, regardless of the risk factor revealed.
Overall, Adler believes that disclosure is a personal choice and can negatively impact some people. “If strategies for disclosure are considered, these should accommodate the needs of individuals who wish not to know their risk status,” added Adler.
Alder, R.G., Young, J.L., Russell, E.I., McHardy, D.R., Linscott, R.J. (2013). The impact and desirability of news of risk for schizophrenia. PLoS ONE 8(4): e62904. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0062904
© Copyright 2013 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved.
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.