Individuals who suffer from mental health disorders are more likely to marry and start a family with other people who also have psychiatric disorders, a new study suggests.
Ashley E. Nordsletten, a co-author of the study and a postdoctoral research fellow at Karolinska Institutet (KI, unofficially known as the Karolinska Institute) in Stockholm, said that the new study did not look at why people with psychiatric conditions, like depression and schizophrenia, often marry other people with such conditions. Therefore, it is still unclear what the mechanisms behind this phenomenon are, she added. Perhaps it is simply because both of the people share certain traits.
For the study – published Wednesday (Feb. 24) in the journal JAMA Psychiatry – the researchers analysed the data on approximately 700,000 people in Sweden who were hospitalized between 1973 and 2009.
Of the seven hundred thousand individuals, more than 70,000 had schizophrenia, chronic physical illnesses – like diabetes, Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis – or ten other major psychiatric disorders. (note: Crohn’s disease, also referred to as regional enteritis and Crohn syndrome, is an inflammatory bowel disease that can affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract; symptoms include fever, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, weight loss, etc.)
To find mating patterns among individuals with physical illnesses, and those with psychiatric conditions, the researchers also looked at data from Swedish marital records.
The results showed that the likelihood of people with psychiatric disorders to marry people with the same disorder, or different psychiatric disorder, was a lot higher, compared with the likelihood of them marrying and having children with people without psychiatric disorders.
On the other end of the spectrum, the same pattern was not found in people with physical illnesses, according to the researchers. For instance, individuals with Crohn’s disease were not more likely to choose a partner with the same illness.
Scott Wetzler, a psychologist and behavioural scientist at Montefiore Health System in New York, said that the new study shed some light on the tendencies of people with severe psychiatric disorders when it comes to choosing a future partner. As the results showed, less likely to marry people without psychiatric disorders, Wetzler added.
In general, individuals who are diagnosed with severe psychiatric disorders find it more difficult to establish social relationships with other people. Moreover, those without psychiatric conditions are also less willing to marry and have children with someone who has such conditions, according to Wetzler. These are two possible explanations as to why individuals with psychiatric disorders choose others with similar disorders, the researchers said.
Dr. Matthew Lorber, acting director of child and adolescent psychiatry at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, stated that the new findings are important to consider when it comes to the higher incidence of psychiatric illness running in families. Moreover, the new information might also help in future genetic research, Dr. Lorber explained.
According to Wetzler, the risk of a child to be born with some sort of psychiatric conditions is a lot higher especially when both parents also have psychiatric conditions.
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