A Lethal Inheritance: A mother uncovers the science behind three generations of mental illness
April 21, 2012
Part memoir, part scientific detective story in the tradition of “Henrietta Lacks,” in A LETHAL INHERITANCE Emmy Award-winning science writer Victoria Costello investigates her family lineage for clues to the mental unraveling of her seventeen-year-old son Alex. Eventually she ties Alex’s descent into hallucinations and months of shoeless wandering on the streets of L.A. to a dark family secret: the apparent suicide of his great-grandfather on a New York City railroad track in 1913.
After learning that countless families share a similar “lethal inheritance,” she begins a decade-long search for answers. Among her discoveries is startling new brain science that sheds light on the links between addictions and undiagnosed mental disorders that have repeated in three past generations of her family–including her own lifelong depression. But her search goes much further, ultimately yielding a new model of recovery based on early intervention and family involvement that can transform a tough genetic hand like Alex’s into a prescription for mental wellness, with implications for present and future generations. In the process, she delivers an unlikely “happy ending” applicable to hers and many other families. As Terrie Moffitt writes in the foreword to the book, Victoria’s “discoveries about causes and new strategies for prevention are worth their weight in gold for readers, especially parents.”
A LETHAL INHERITANCE is at once a primer on neuroscience, a spellbinding account of one family’s turbulent history, and an indispensible guide for parents who want to reverse a legacy of mental illness before it reaches their children.