A Lethal Inheritance

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From Booknews.com, a description used by libraries to inform their patrons about the book’s content:

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

A Denver, Colorado librarian’s  concise summary and review, posted on the Denver, Colorado Public Library Book Blog. 

March 1, 2012 -- When science journalist Victoria Costello was told that her 17-year-old son had paranoid schizophrenia, she began a ten-year odyssey to research how genetics and environment are predictors of mental illness and substance abuse.

Part memoir and part handbook, A Lethal Inheritance is a highly readable reckoning of Costello’s two sons’ mental illness, her own undiagnosed depression and the discoveries she made while trying to help them and herself.

The first section of the book discusses early signs and predisposition. For example, in a 1990 family study, researchers collected home movies from fifteen families with a schizophrenic adult. “They easily identified the pre-schizophrenic children from their siblings because of their flatter emotional states (they showed less joy or distress) and less coordinated movements.”

Part 2 is about her own family illness and  history of addiction, going back three generations. One chapter is entitled “The Irish Factor.” It describes a county in western Ireland with the world’s highest rate of schizophrenia and how social factors play a part.  Another one, “Grandpa’s Psychological Autopsy,” is about her grandfather, who committed suicide by lying on railroad tracks.

The final section, “The Science and Practice of Recovery and Prevention,” explains ways to be the first line of defense for your child’s mental health. How to use family history as a guide for treatment, getting the right care and the top ten things a parent can do to safeguard a child’s mental health are covered in depth.

A Review by Laura Shumaker, published on April 10 in her S.F. Chronicle “City Brights” Column….

Before I read the first paragraph of book, (which captivated me – literally. I read the book all at once) I thought of myself as someone who knew a thing or two about mental illness. I soon found out that I knew very little.

In the book, local author and science journalist Victoria Costello artfully interweaves her personal experience with depression, her family’s history with mental illness and discoveries from her decade long crusade to research how genetics and environment are predictors of mental illness and substance abuse….

What I loved about this book was the quality of the author’s writing and story telling. She not only answered the questions I had about mental illness, but she educated me about the science (and legacy) of psychiatric disorders, including evidence based information about:

  • Parent-Child transmission of mental disorders
  • Understanding when “acting out” or “boys will be boys” crosses the line
  • Distinguishing between mild and major depression
  • Screening for mental disorders
  • Suicide risk and prevention
  • How to do an intervention
  • Preventing mental illness.

I was grateful that the author’s account of raising two sons with severe mental illness (one with paranoid schizophrenia and the other with depression and anxiety) included hopeful tips about how parents can safeguard their child’s mental health:

I’ve learned that although we’re each born with with inherited liabilities and assets, throughout our lives, our minds become largely what we make of them. Put simply, nurture can trump nature. In some cases, it can turn even an inherited liability into a possibility-yes-an asset.

S.F. Chronicle….

From the foreword by neuroscientist Terrie E. Moffitt, Ph.D.

“At the first signs of a child’s behavioral disturbance, parents and clinicians are faced with a difficult, sometimes terrible choice. Must we start treatment as soon as possible, and risk doing harm? Or is “wait and see” the wiser option? In her fascinating and important book, Victoria writes compellingly about the “new, new parenting.” One of the most loving things parents can do is to find out about our children’s psychiatric family history. As Victoria found, the quest takes bravery. Research is proving that for most psychiatric conditions, having a family history makes all the difference between treat now and wait and see.

As readers—and clinicians—expecting the worst in Victoria’s story, we are then in for a wonderful surprise. Over the course of fourteen riveting chapters she masterfully interweaves self-revelation, family history and cutting-edge science to share a story of hope, and ultimately, great joy as she and her sons find treatment and meaningful recovery. The factual information she shares about the disorders that trouble her family and the discoveries she makes about causes and new strategies for prevention are worth their weight in gold for readers, especially for parents.”

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Click to go to the official book website!

Some Early Reviews for the Book….

From Ayelet Waldman, author of Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities and Occasional Moments of Grace. A Lethal Inheritance, by Victoria Costello should be required reading for any parent with a family history of mental illness, for pediatricians, and for educators. Ms. Costello elegantly weaves personal history and scientific research into a compelling and profoundly important narrative. As a mother, I am grateful to her for giving me the tools to understand the risks my family history presents to my children. But more importantly, I am grateful to Ms. Costello for her insight in how both to avert and survive a child’s mental health crisis.” 

Andrew Solomon, National Book Award recipient for THE NOONDAY DEMON, AN ATLAS OF DEPRESSION, says this about A Lethal Inheritance….”This honest, lucid book examines the urgent problems of family history and early diagnosis in mental illness from a personal and scientific standpoint. It will be invaluable to families trying to understand their own history, and to those who have been blind to such history.”

From Linda Gray Sexton, author of Half in Love, Surviving the Legacy of Suicide and Searching for Mercy Street: My Journey Back to My Mother, Ann Sexton. “Victoria Costello skillfully weaves all the latest medical research with an evocative and moving account of her two sons’ descents into the depths of schizophrenia and depression and then moves upwards into hope and recovery. She is not afraid to tell their story or her own. A Lethal Inheritance is a graceful balance between science and memoir. “

Former A.P. chief science correspondent and author of ACQUAINTED WITH THE NIGHT Paul Raeburn offers this about my book: “Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way, as Tolstoy said, and while happy endings are elusive, Victoria Costello’s sad but gripping account of her family’s struggles to reach recovery demonstrates the value of resilience, and persistence. It’s helpful to all of us to be reminded of that.”

Visit  http://www.alethalinheritance.com to read find out how to invite me to speak to your parent/mental health support/or book group. Or contact me via EMAIL:  victoria@victoriacostello.com

One response to “A Lethal Inheritance

  1. What a powerful tool to help families cope, give them the latest science and practical ideas for dealing with their own situations.

    http://newgrandmas.com/10214/beingagrandparent/parenting-family-2/what-is-it-about-february-and-suicide/

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