ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Parents are not to Blame for Schizophrenic and Bipolar Illnesses

By Jack Bragen
Wednesday April 11, 2012 - 09:31:00 AM

When someone becomes mentally ill in their young adulthood or late adolescence, the episode can be as devastating for the parents of that person as for the afflicted. I recall that my first episode of psychosis was a very wild ride, and not in a good way. At the end of this episode, I was finally stabilized, and I received a diagnosis of Schizophrenia, Paranoid-type. The psychiatrist, Doctor Trachtenberg, had my mom and I seated in a room, and he told us the diagnosis as well as the prognosis. I remember that this diagnosis was very upsetting to my mother and that I was too "out of it" to be upset about it. 

This came after months of me being very hard to deal with because I was having a whopper of a psychotic episode. I do not feel the inclination to share with you the details of this episode. During this psychotic episode, my parents were extremely fearful on my behalf, and went through a very hard time dealing with me. From my perspective it was very difficult also, especially because it had never happened to me before, therefore there was not a part of me that could understand or explain what was happening. (In subsequent episodes, because it had happened before, some part of me had an understanding of what was probably going on, and could provide some small amount of cushioning.) 

My parents did not create my schizophrenic illness. They had no control over the genes they passed along to me and had limited power over my environment. I have early childhood memories of feeling paranoid while in the public school system. I believe I had some level of this illness beginning at birth. 

Both of my parents have always been kind and gentle, and they have been living examples of how to be a good person. Credit ought to be given to them for the fact that I have finally had a good outcome after decades of struggling against the illness. They have been there to help me get back on my feet at times when I have figuratively fallen flat on my face. They have put my needs above their own. 

Schizophrenia and Bipolar illnesses are caused by genetic predispositions in combination with unknown environmental factors. The environmental component could include accidents in which there was a blow to the head, problems in the environment in the womb, viruses, television, movies and video games, eating too much fast food, and not fitting in socially, or being bullied by other children. Having mean parents (which I did not have) is not known to be a cause of schizophrenia and bipolar, although it might create offspring with a mean disposition. 

Parents might possibly be to blame for some mental illnesses other than schizophrenia and bipolar. My knowledge of this is very limited. Children who grow up in the foster care system are more likely to end up in jail than those who are raised by their parents. Parents who are abusive will produce offspring who are physically and emotionally damaged. This damage doesn't tend to show itself through schizophrenia and bipolar. Some people who are sociopathic could have been mistreated; or this illness could be another, distinct, neurobiological condition. I will not make the commitment of saying that any group of parents is bad. 

Schizophrenia and bipolar are illnesses that have plagued some families over a period of generations. Along with these conditions often comes brilliance. We could also be looking at our physical evolution trying to take the next step in the development of a future human species.