A Balanced View: Having a baby with severe mental illness

Acelya AksunkurAn article was published a few weeks ago and circulated by www.rethinkmentalillness.org. The question that was posed was “am I crazy for wanting a baby with schizophrenia?” Many responded with both positive and negative replies, but many were imbalanced. Imbalanced information in the field of mental health is not a shocker. Imbalanced information circulates throughout the system all of the time. This is not new news. But I’d like to offer a balanced perspective to this story.

Firstly, having children is a very complicated matter and many things can go wrong with health. Although I am not a mother (yet!), working with children of all ages (5-22) has afforded me an inside look at the multiple challenges involved in child-rearing. Infants can be complicated little creatures, although so very cute! They can develop health and mental health problems, developmental challenges, or have very touch temperaments. Some kids are overly hyperactive, don’t catch on in school fast enough for teachers or parents, struggle with adjustment issues, suffer from separation anxiety, struggle with parental problems such as divorces or unstable relationships, and other kids just struggle with peer pressure, following authority, or getting good grades. Most kids are sweet, loving, beautiful little people. I love them! But there is a reality that we all fail to look at. We fail to look at the fact that these cute little people will one day grow up!

What are the down sides?

When kids grow up, we see they are susceptible to a host of issues that adults are and some kids end up growing up with substance abuse problems, severe depression, having suicidal thoughts, and other issues. The question for any parent should always be “are you ready to deal with whatever might result in this child’s life?” The next question for all parents should be “are you emotionally ready for their challenges?” Not all kids have challenges but for those that do, strong parents are needed.

On the flip side of this, children are often highly affected by the emotional stability or instability of their parents. If a parent is not stable enough to raise a child, that child can grow to have many emotional and psychological needs. Some kids go straight into substance abuse, while other kids end up delinquent. This, of course, is not the fate of ALL kids, but this reality does exist in many areas.

What are the positives?

Some parents have children and everything turns out okay. The fact that one has a severe mental health condition does not automatically dis-qualify them from having children. But there are things to consider before taking that leap. I have worked with children who are being raised by parents who suffer from depression, have felt suicidal in their past, or experience anxiety at intense levels. Some parents even struggle with mild cases of autism, mental retardation (or intellectual disabilities), and other conditions. Having loving, strong, dedicated, and supportive parents  has a way of trumping anything that could negatively affect a child in most cases. But there are a small number of cases that barely survive the emotional and psychological “trauma” of a parent. As a result, there are a few questions all parents struggling with mental health conditions should ask themselves.

The most important questions to ask a parent struggling with severe mental illness are:

  • “Are you stabilized enough to have a child?”
  • “How long will that stability last and what is the history of stabilization?”
  • “Will medications taken affect the developing baby?”
  • “Can you cope with the possibility of postpartum depression?”
  • “Do you know or understand the genetic heritability of the disease?”
  • “Are you prepared for dealing with the possibility of your child inheriting the disease?”
  • “Do you have a support system?”

Take away

We have to be careful not to pre-prejudge a mother suffering from a severe mental health condition. But it is important to consider the pros and cons and evaluate whether having a child is in the best interest of the unborn child.

To read the article about this dilemma, visit Mail Online.

Photo credit: Acelya Aksunkur