The Family Inheritance

My interest in Sylvia Plath started when I had to read “Mirror” in middle school. Over the years, I’ve read more about her life, The Bell Jar, and her many poems. In one of my depressed moments, I went by myself to the movie theater at night to catch the movie, “Sylvia.” I hate that I am so intrigued by her, sometimes having reached an unhealthy point, but I am. Today I saw the headline: Nicholas Hughes, Sylvia Plath’s son commits suicide. I never knew much about Nicholas Hughes until I started reading his obituary and other articles, but it was just so sad to read that he came to share the same fate as his mother’s.

Mr. Hughes, a prominent fisheries scientist, and his death did bring back to my mind something I’ve thought about: is suicide hereditary? This question was so deftly addressed by The Guardian’s Ian Sample’s article: Death in the Family. In this article, Sample points out the following:

One of the most stark insights into depression and suicide comes from scientists studying bipolar disorder, formerly known as manic depression. People with the condition experience periods of intense mania, and will often feel themselves compelled to attempt grandiose tasks and projects, but fall into a deep depression once they are completed. The condition is thought to be strongly linked to specific genes.

“If you look at a population of people diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a fifth of them will attempt or succeed in committing suicide,” said David Porteous, professor of human molecular genetics at Edinburgh University. “Also, if you look at families where someone has committed suicide, the chances are that you will find another case in the not-too distant family,” he added.(from The Guardian, 24 March 2009, by Ian Sample)

    I personally don’t know of any completed suicides in my family tree. But I do know of some suicide attempts that have happened in the family-tree branches not so high above me, with undiagnosed mental-health illnesses scattered about. Understandably, just because the ‘suicide gene’ might be in my veins, it does not bring much, if any comfort, to parents who had to hear from their daughter about her attempt (the plural can’t be used here because I never told them about the other hospital visits I made since that time. Saying something about one is enough; and the ECT thing makes it more than enough).

    I do like looking up facts, stats and studies. And on a minor level, reading about the genetics of mental illnesses do give me some comfort-if one could call it that-about this element of myself. But those numbers reflect something much more grim in real life, and when I become depressed, start believing that I’m going to be Maureen Dowd the next day, or decide that I need to kill myself, it doesn’t matter that there might be some hereditary cause for it. Those numbers won’t save me.

    After I came out of the psych hospital the time I was told I had bipolar disorder, one of the first things my psychiatrist said was that I should notify my sister of this diagnosis because this disorder has a very good chance of running in the family – including to any children that she might have.

    What a thing to have to inherit from your big sister. A mental illness for the kids!


    4 Comments to “The Family Inheritance”

    1. Hello!
      Very Interesting post! Thank you for such interesting resource!
      PS: Sorry for my bad english, I’v just started to learn this language ;)
      See you!
      Your, Raiul Baztepo

    2. Thanks. Your English reads just fine. This isn’t my first language, either. Hope you’re enjoying learning English.

    3. hey..i really like your english teacher recently introduced me to the works of sylvia plath,elizabeth bishop and ted hughes…this was very insightful..thanks..see my blog

    4. It’s sounds strange but it’s like I become obsessed with death that I study it. I’m intrigued by others stories and no fiction true crimes and stories of adversity. It transcends me to another world, think it helps me to forget my life miseries

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