I am not a parent, let alone a parent of someone with mental illness, nevertheless, but it is still clear to me that parents of the mentally ill get blamed for their child’s mental illness. I honestly don’t know if my mother has ever experienced this, but I know of other parents who have. One woman I know comes to mind. Her daughter has schizophrenia and requires a lot of help to successfully maintain her wellness and live on her own. Her mother provides everything she can to make this happen – and it’s a lot. And yet, this mother has been blamed for her daughter’s schizophrenia. But parents aren’t to blame for their child’s mental illness.
[Note that I’m not saying here that serious traumas can’t add to the likelihood of mental illness – they can, particularly in the case of dissociative disorders and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I’m just saying that people do not have to have experienced this type of trauma to have a serious mental illness and parents (non-abusive ones) are not to blame for the appearance of a mental illness.]
Why Do People Blame Parents for a Child’s Mental Illness?
I think there are two main reasons people blame parents for a child’s mental illness:
- It is a lingering false notion from the times when people believed that mental illnesses were due to character flaws or a lack of morality. It is assumed these types of flaws have been passed down by the parents.
- People are always looking for something to blame for a serious illness (any serious illness). There are various reasons for this but it often comes down this: if we can blame “bad parenting” (or something else controllable) then that means we can prevent mental illness by simply not being a “bad parent.” And therefore, one’s child would never be subject to such a serious illness because he or she was protected by his or her “good parents.” (Because no one wants to believe that serious mental illness could happen to his or her child.)
Both of these notions are wrong and illogical but they represent something still present in society’s psyche today.
My Parents Being Blamed for My Bipolar Disorder
Look, I’ll level with you, I’ve had issues with my mother – oodles of them. At one point in my life, I wish she would have disappeared altogether. (Things have drastically changed now.) And my father was an alcoholic with bipolar as well so things weren’t exactly smooth sailing there either. But did either of them cause my bipolar disorder? Not a chance.
I will admit that having gone through certain traumatic events in my earlier life likely both increased my chances of mental illness and likely brought it on sooner. But, I also know that I exhibited signs of bipolar disorder long before those traumas occurred. Even when I was a small child I remember moods indicative of bipolar disorder. My mother remembers them as well.
So while my upbringing wasn’t perfect (no one’s is), I would never blame it for my bipolar disorder. Not ever.
Parents Blame Themselves for a Child’s Mental Illness
And the kicker is, even though it is a myth that bad parenting causes mental illness, parents still often blame themselves for a child’s mental illness. Parents internalize the appearance of mental illness in their child and think they did something wrong. They think that such a serious disorder being present (especially if it’s in a young child) must be their fault. So not only is the rest of the world judging the parent as “bad” because his or her child has a mental illness, the parent is actually blaming his or herself as well.
Really, it’s quite the unfortunate situation and quite the pickle.
Do Not Blame Parents for Their Child’s Mental Illness
We, as people with severe mental illness, need to not blame our parents for our mental illness – and we need to tell them this is so. We need to relieve the burden on our parents as much as possible so that they can stop blaming themselves unnecessarily.
But more than that, we need to tell others that it wasn’t our parent’s fault. Because while there is no doubt that there is discrimination and prejudice against those with serious mental illness, there is also discrimination and prejudice against the parents, too. And these people are often the unsung heroes in the lives of people with serious mental illness. They are so often the ones standing by their sick child when no one else does. And this is a very, very hard job.
So society needs to stop blaming parents for a child’s mental illness. Parents of those with mental illness have a hard enough job already without dealing with this unfair blame.