By Brooklyn Neustaeter
TORONTO (TVC network) — While genealogical DNA testing may be marketed as a harmless and exciting way for people to learn more about their ancestral heritage, a Canadian researcher says there needs to be more support for those who receive unexpected results likely to disrupt family relationships, raise issues of paternity and infidelity. Robert Whitley, associate professor of psychiatry at McGill University, studies the psychosocial experiences of Canadians who receive startling news from ancestry DNA testing, particularly events “not expected by parents”, i.e. when a person presumed to be the relative of an individual is not in fact the biological mother or father. “You meet a family that you didn’t know existed, and it can be very psychologically disruptive and a huge stress on mental health and family harmony,” he said. CTVNews.ca in a phone interview on Friday. Whitley says that’s a more common scenario than you might think. “False paternity estimates… are around 2% in the population, which affects perhaps one in 50 people who could possibly receive this very shocking news. It’s not an insignificant number if you think millions of people take these tests,” he explained. Whitley said many people take genealogy DNA tests — such as those offered by companies such as 23andMe and AncestryDNA — to better understand their heritage. However, test results also connect users with anyone biologically related to them. He noted that some people revel in it, excited to meet distant, third or fourth cousins, but others may learn that their relative is not biologically related to them. , which Whitley says can impact their long-term mental health. “They’re completely unprepared for this because the people they’re in a relationship with are people who, up until that point, are unknowingly, and it’s a huge psychological shock,” Whitley said. He noted that it can be linked to factors such as parental infidelity, adoption or sperm donation – all unexpected news that has the potential to shatter a person’s identity. “As a result, and from what we have learned so far, many people feel like they are stuck on a boat in the ocean when faced with this situation because psychologists and therapists don’t have evidence-based practices that can help people,” Whitley said. This break from the everyday is called a biographical break. Whitley said it’s known as a disruption of the narratives people hold. to understand each other and the trajectory of their lives. Other examples may include divorce or losing one’s job. “It can completely affect your self-image, it can affect the harmony of your family relationships, it can lead to huge existential questions and doubts about who you are and where you’ve been in life and where you’re going in life,” Whitley explained. With her research, which is funded by the nonprofit GenomeCan ada, Whitley says her team aims to better understand the experience of those who receive shocking DNA testing news from a mental health perspective. He says the data will then be used to help create new support resources for those who may face this situation in the future. “One of the goals of research is really to understand what issues people face, how they react to them, and what they do to try to help themselves on their recovery journey,” said he declared. For research, Whitey is looking to interview about 50 people by the end of this year and then in 2023 to use the results to help create targeted therapies and resources. Those who have received startling news about their parentage following a genealogical DNA test and wish to be part of the study can email Whitley directly at [email protected] SAFEGUARDS AND REGULATIONS IN THE INDUSTRY Whitley said there is currently no concrete guidance for psychologists and therapists on how to help events “not expected by parents”, which, he said. he added, is concerning as the popularity of DNA testing grows and more counselors are faced with such cases. . According to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) data released in 2019, more than 26 million people have taken a genealogy DNA test. “We know that some people have consulted psychologists [or] psychiatrists and I just got the kind of generic treatments that some people get when they have problems,” Whitley said. He said those affected had also reported little help from DNA testing companies in these situations, and said companies should be more transparent and upfront about the associated risks. AncestryDNA says CTVNews.ca in an emailed statement on Friday, he takes his responsibility to his clients, and the potential impact of the “complex findings” of his test, “very seriously”. “We have a small, dedicated group of highly experienced representatives who deal with customers with more sensitive questions,” a company spokesperson said in the email. It also offers a warning about unexpected online test results located in its privacy statement. “You may discover unexpected facts about yourself or your family when you use our services,” reads Ancestry’s privacy statement. “Once discoveries are made, we cannot undo them.” A 23andMe spokesperson said CTVNews.ca in a statement emailed Friday that it has “various measures” in place to help prepare customers for unexpected information, and also gives them the choice of whether they want to learn it. “First, we prepare clients with all the information they need in advance and let them know that the test can lead to unexpected, and sometimes life-changing, results,” the spokesperson said. “We specifically state that you can find out things like ‘your father is not genetically your father’.” Additionally, 23andMe said it has a “specially trained” customer service team to help those who discover unexpected family members. However, Whitley would like to see more standardization of mental health supports across Canada to help those who receive unexpected DNA test results, as well as targeted therapy specific to the needs of this group. “It raises a lot of issues for a lot of people and nobody really talks about it in the public domain…Psychologists try to talk about it, but they don’t have the research to allow them to conduct the kinds of therapies and the interventions that we would like to carry out with respect to these questions,” Whitley said. Whitley said he hopes his research will raise awareness that despite promoting DNA testing as an “exciting discovery process”, a risk.” The risk is that you learn potentially shocking and world-shattering information,” he said. “It could be good news, you could learn that you have family relationships that you don’t didn’t know about it and they’re great people…or it could be news you were really unprepared for so…proceed with caution.”
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