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MDLinxConsumer DNA Tests Uncover Hidden Epidemic of Incest

Consumer DNA testing reveals the hidden prevalence of incest, suggesting broader implications for mental and physical health in clinical practice.

The increasing use of consumer DNA tests has unveiled a higher-than-expected prevalence of incest, challenging previous estimates and emphasizing the need for clinicians to understand and address the mental and physical health impacts on affected individuals.

Key Points:

  • Prevalence Revealed by DNA Testing:
    • Consumer DNA testing services, such as 23andMe, have indicated that incest is more common than previously believed.
    • Research from UK Biobank found that 1 in every 7,000 participants was born to parents who were first-degree relatives, either siblings or a parent and child.
  • Historical Underestimation:
    • A 1975 psychiatry textbook estimated the prevalence of father-daughter incest at 1 in every 1 million families, which has been shown to be a gross underestimate.
  • Stigma and Research Challenges:
    • Research on incest has been stifled due to stigma and backlash against therapists suggesting abuse that hadn’t occurred.
  • Physical and Mental Health Impacts:
    • Incest can lead to depression, flashbacks, self-harm, STIs, substance abuse, dissociation, panic attacks, eating disorders, unwanted pregnancies, sleep disorders, and suicide.
    • Survivors may suffer from PTSD, which is linked to sexual dysfunction, especially in military veterans and childhood sexual abuse survivors.
    • Physical health issues from incest can include recessive genetic disorders, developmental disorders, cystic fibrosis, premature birth, cleft palate, and heart problems.
  • Accidental Incest Concerns:
    • The prevalence of incest raises concerns about “inadvertent consanguineous conception,” or accidental incest, particularly with sperm donor conception.
    • Fertility clinics limit the number of times a donor’s sperm can be used and maintain records to mitigate this risk, although not foolproof.
  • Treatment and Support:
    • Evidence-based treatments for survivors include psychodynamic psychotherapy, trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy.
    • Avoiding re-traumatization during therapy is crucial.
    • Support groups like RAINN and Survivors of Incest Anonymous provide additional resources.
  • Practical Implications for Clinicians:
    • Clinicians should be aware of the higher prevalence of incest and the broad range of health impacts.
    • Providing information on psychotherapeutic approaches and support groups is essential for helping patients heal.

“Processing abuse and trauma is a helpful and necessary step to recovery and is the main focus in these treatment modalities.”
Authors, Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience

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