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A Lethal Inheritance: A Mother Uncovers the Science Behind Three Generations of Mental Illnessby Victoria Costello
Synopses & Reviews
Every family has secrets; only some secrets are lethal. In Victoria Costello’s family mental illness had been given many names over at least four generations until this inherited conspiracy of silence finally endangered the youngest members of the family, her children.
In this riveting story—part memoir, detective story, and scientific investigation—the author recounts how the mental unraveling of her seventeen-year-old son Alex compelled her to look back into family history for clues to his condition. Eventually she tied Alex’s descent into hallucinations and months of shoeless wandering on the streets of Los Angeles to his great grandfather’s suicide on a New York City railroad track in 1913.
But this insight brought no quick relief. Within two years of Alex’s diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia, both she and her youngest son succumbed to two different mental disorders: major depression and anxiety disorder.
Costello depicts her struggle to get the best possible mental health care for her sons and herself, treatment that ultimately brings each of them to full recovery. In the process, she discovers new science that explains how clusters of mental illness traverse family generations. Artfully weaving the scientific into the personal, Costello takes a journey to the far reaches of neuroscience and reports back on the startling findings it is yielding about the complex interplay between genes and environment that drives mental illness, and what it now tells us about how parents can trump a lethal inheritance.
She shares the results of long-term U.K. and European family studies identifying the earliest signs of mental illnesses that can be passed on from grandparents to parents and grandchildren. She tracks ongoing clinical trials to reverse the courses of these diseases through early intervention with the latest evidence-based treatments and offers brain-healthy choices individuals and families can make to prevent mental illness—freeing future generations to live healthier, happier lives.
"A science journalist and mental health advocate in San Francisco, Costello offers both an affecting chronicle of her family's mental illness and a useful guide to detection and prevention. Both of her sons suffered for years and were occasionally hospitalized — the eldest, Alex, was finally diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia at age 18 in 1998; his younger brother by six years, Sammy, battled anxiety and depression. While signs of antisocial behavior had been prevalent for years, Alex's illness exploded at age 14 (not unusual during the maturation process of adolescence), while Sammy, too, hit middle school 'like a wind-up toy whose batteries simply gave out.' What Costello had to face was what she calls 'connecting the dots' from her children's mental illness to that of several generations of family members, such as her father's alcoholism and depression, her sister's death from a drug overdose, and her own depression and abuse of alcohol. Attempting to diagnose children for mental disorders takes into account this predisposition and family history (Costello cites one study of the susceptibility of the Irish to mental illness), useful for early detection and treatment; moreover, recognizing and avoiding environmental factors for at-risk kids such as chaos at home (i.e., divorce), bullying, and drug abuse can actually prevent the onset of mental illness. In the end, Costello presents a book of vigorous personal and factual research. (Jan.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Book News Annotation:
Writing in accessible terms for general readers as well as professionals in mental health, author Victoria Costello, a science journalist and film writer, weaves family history and science in this narrative of her journey through the medical establishment to find help for her older son's psychotic symptoms, her younger son's depression and anxiety, and her own depression and alcoholism. As she confronts her denial about the severity of her sons' symptoms, she discovers that various forms of mental illness have plagued her family for several generations. She explains current research on early warning signs of mental illness among young people, stressing research that demonstrates that early medication and psychotherapy can help affected young people lead full, independent lives. With advice directed at parents of children and teens at risk, she discusses the problematic link between antidepressants and adolescent suicide and offers guidance on getting the right mental health care, using family history as a guide for treatment choices, and practical ways to safeguard a child's mental health. Annotation ©2012 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
About the Author
Victoria Costello reports on family and children’s mental health for Psychology Today online, Yahoo! News Health & Wellness, Mamapedia, and MentalHealthMomBlog. She is the coauthor with child psychiatrist Jack Westman, MD, MS, of A Complete Idiot’s Guide to Child and Adolescent Psychology, and with family therapist Stephen Martin of The Everything Parent’s Guide to Childhood OCD. As a science journalist, she won an Emmy Award for the Disney Channel special called This Island Earth. With the Mental Health Association of San Francisco, Costello is a speaker, workshop facilitator, and state and federal advocate working to improve the mental health of youth and families.
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