Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Does bad parenting cause mental illness?

Over on our Facebook page, a reader posted: 

Supporters of families should protest SAMHSA's distribution of its new "Family Therapy Can Help" booklet. It's full of statements that imply that faulty family dynamics are the underlying problem in the development and persistence of mental illnesses. At the same time, SAMHSA does nothing to educate the public or clinicians or people with severe illnesses on what is known about psychotic disorders from a science based perspective. Here's a link to this free document:

Around the same time, a Shrink Rap reader wrote in to us saying:

    I get tired of the stories about the noble families caring for their wayward child. It's that way sometimes, but a lot of times, it's NOT that way!
   What I don't understand is this: I have NEVER EVER read an article anywhere that talked about families and an adult child with serious mental illness that did anything but praise the family of origin and their noble quests to save their unfortunate children. (Well, on Dr. Allen's site, which is like the only exception).
   I have bipolar and came from an incest family. Just about every psychiatrist I have ever seen, and every single community mental health worker (social services) has said that so many of their patients come from abusive families. In fact, the community workers who only see people with serious and persistent mental illness say that nearly ALL their clients have extremely abusive families.
   So what is going on here that there is NEVER EVER a mention that perhaps some of these sacrificing, noble family members may have been the catalyst for the mental illness and are continuing to abuse the person by committing them and placing all the blame of the messed up family at the feet of the one who has a label? And bipolar or schizophrenia labels are handy for parents or other abusers to escape culpability.
   I understand that NAMI is all about moms not wanting to be blamed for their kids' mental illnesses, which probably did happen unfairly quite a bit. But come on! Often parents are the major cause, by abusing or failing to protect their kids (in my sexual abuse support group, all the ladies were blamed and ostracized by their moms and others when they told about what happened. What I learned from that is that kids who are abused and their mom has their back don't end up so messed up that they need to be in a support group)
   So it always ticks me off when I read blogs written by mental health providers, or newspaper articles, or see something on TV showing these wonderful, loving parents, and come on, statistically, some of those families are probably very abusive and the motives for promoting involuntary commitment are very dark indeed, a legal way to continue abusing an adult who has tried to escape.
  And keep in mind that many people who have been in a mental hospital found it to be further abuse.
  Or did all those mental health workers lie to me about mental patients and their toxic families?
Clinically, I've seen all combinations.  I've seen people with really dysfunctional families and very sad histories that have included horrible losses and abuse, who have turned into very functional, loving, and productive adults.  I've seen people who have been raised by wonderful parents have serious mental illnesses, and I've seen people with awful family lives who have been come seriously mentally ill.  It's often hard to sort out the role of genes versus environment, because often the dysfunctional and abusive parents also suffered from mental illness.   People differ with their individual sensitivities to what has been sad and done to them -- some feel injured by parents who seem to have good intentions but sometimes say the wrong things, and others have no problem dismissing what sounds to be flagrant abuse.  Certainly, objectively traumatic events color who people become and how they react to the world.  But does childhood trauma cause psychotic disorders?

What do our readers think?