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Clin Genet. 2005 Feb;67(2):134-42.

The potential impact of genetic counseling for mental illness.

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  • 1Centre for Complex Disorders, and Department of Psychiatry, University of British Columbia, 203-828 West 10th Avenue, Vancouver, British Columbia V5Z 1L8, Canada.


Mental disorders are relatively highly heritable, yet complex with important interactions between genetic risk and environmental factors in determining illness expression. Due to the high prevalence of these complex disorders, steady increase in knowledge about genetic contributions, and increasing public awareness, this area may come to represent a significant proportion of all genetic counseling. The potential impact of genetic counseling in mental illness is broad. As well as the conventional expectations, genetic counseling may have the positive outcomes of reducing the guilt, shame, and stigma associated with mental illness, even within families. However, like many interventions in medicine, genetic counseling for mental disorders could potentially have unintended consequences resulting in increased stigma, guilt, and shame. The potential impacts of genetic education and providing recurrence risks on stigma are reviewed, as well as the role of education about the environment as a way of modifying family members' guilt. The review allows a preliminary formulation of a series of suggestions for genetic counseling in mental illness.

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