Is There A Connection Between Genetics & Psychotic Episodes?

By Paul Gaita 10/14/19

Studies have shown that approximately three out of 100 people will have a psychotic episode in their lifetime.

Genetics scientist typing on laptop, searches for link to psychotic episodes
Does having a psychotic episode also mean that one is schizophrenic? © motortion |

A psychotic episode—in which an individual hears, sees or perceives stimuli that does not exist—is a more common experience that might be imagined.

Studies have shown that approximately three out of 100 people will have a psychotic episode in their lifetime, with many of these occurring during adolescence or young adulthood. While a psychotic episode is not always indicative of mental illness, it is considered to be one of the primary symptoms of schizophrenia

But does having a psychotic episode also mean that one is schizophrenic? Researchers examined this possible connection by looking at genetic commonalities between individuals who have had psychotic episodes and those with schizophrenia.

To uncover a possible link between these two demographics, researchers from across the globe conducted the largest study into genetics by examining data from the UK Biobank study, which compiled genetic information on 500,000 individuals for disease prevention research.

Genes and DNA sequences were gathered from more than 6,000 individuals who had reported having a psychotic episode but had not been diagnosed with schizophrenia or any other mental disorder. Data was also taken from more than 121,000 people who had reported never having a psychotic episode.

External Factors Likely Play Significant Role in Producing Isolated Episodes

The researchers' analysis found that genetics did play a role in the possibility of having a psychotic episode, albeit a small one, and that external or environmental factors may have greater influence in producing isolated episodes. In an article for Live Science, the study authors noted that a traumatic experience may increase the chances for such an episode, as could excessive cannabis use.

More significantly, researchers also found that the genes associated with psychotic experiences were also linked to a host of other mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, but also depression and bipolar disorder, as well as developmental issues like autism or ADHD. 

More Research Is Needed

Ultimately, the study authors concluded that more extensive research into the relationship between genes and psychotic episodes could answer questions that arose during their data analysis. These include the causes of psychotic episodes, as well as the full risks involved in having such an experience.

Additionally, how the genes that are associated with psychotic episodes actually cause them to happen remains unclear, which requires additional inquiry into what the authors described as "the biological mechanism that causes these types of experiences."

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.