Having Children and Family Histories Of Mental Illness

Should people not have children because of a family history of mental illness? Such is the issue raised in a recent MSN News article, Family mental health history shadows future children.

Not having children was the decision one Irish American Boston area author, Patrick Tracey, had made due the mental illness of his 2 older sisters, his mother and his grandmother. Mr. Tracey believes he has traced his family’s mental illness to a town in Ireland. He seems to think that due to this history having children would be a symptom of mental illness in his case.

For most, the chance of developing schizophrenia or bipolar disorder is only around 1 percent, but for those with a close relative with the disorder, such as a parent or sibling, the average risk rises to about 10 percent.

Do you ever get the idea some people are over reacting? Even If you have a close relative with the disorder, according to this article, 9 out of 10 of your children are not likely to contract it. That’s 90%. Alright, unless he was going to be a large Victorian style family, he has nothing to worry about. The chance that he’d have a nutzoid kid is rather remote.

Maybe his family is the exception to this rule, but then again, maybe it isn’t.

A lady, Susan Marks, with a couple of mad twin brothers, and her husband, after wrestling with the issue, had decided to go ahead, and let one through. She had a son and a daughter, and thus far no looney birds whatsoever. Another lady, Valerie Koeber, had a mother and brother who suffered from bouts with depression and sic schizophrenia. 1 of her 2 sons is battling drug addiction, depression, and anxiety related issues.

According to this news article, A 2008 Australian study found that 35% of those people from families with a strong family history of bipolar disorder are completely unwilling or less willing to have children as a result.

A 2006 study in the American Journal of Medical Genetics found that nearly half of people with a relative suffering from psychosis mistakenly believed the risk their children would inherit the disease was much higher than it actually was — and they were less likely to have children as a result.

Given a 1 in 10 chance of a seriously mentally ill kid, you’ve got a 5 in 10 chance of an over reaction among potential parents. These are interesting statistics, are they not?

Some therapists question the notion that having an elevated risk of mental illness should be a deterrent to parenthood, compared with having a family history of a physical disease.

Some therapists have my thumbs up.

When some of the research going on today is directed toward finding a genetic link to serious mental illness, you’ve got to be a leery of the potential results of this research. For example, imagine a time when parents are given the option of aborting a fetus because of the risk of that fetus developing into an adult with a serious mental illness. This situation is not outside of the realm of possibility. Then consider that as far as we now know 9 out of 10 of these abortions would be mistakes.

Even more critical questions arise over the ethical concerns uncovered by this article. Are, for instance, mad children bad children that should be aborted? These children have no known genetic defects. They are not developmentally different from other children. The disease itself is not likely to develop until late adolescence or early adulthood, if not even later. Many of these mentally ill people will in all likelihood recover their wits after they have lost them. Perhaps we should poll them for their opinions on the subject of euthanasia?

Life has enough obstacles to face without that of being snuffed out entirely from the beginning. Sometimes it’s a good idea not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

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5 Responses

  1. IMO, the problem isn’t a possible genetic “predisposition”, but if someone maybe is likely to pass over generations accumulated trauma on to their kids. Usually, the people who believe in defective genes do so because they’ve swallowed the biological model hook, line and sinker. These people are extremely unlikely to ever make their history of trauma conscious, and work it out. Instead, they’ll almost inevitably pass it on to their kids. That’s irresponsible. But, well, the irresponsibility starts with a system that tells people it’s all genes and biochemistry. Thus not only preventing these people from recovering, but also putting their kids at risk.

    I’ve racked my brains but can’t come to think of anyone, who recovered, and then had kids who developed a “serious mental illness”. I bet, the risk for recovered people to have kids with “mental illness” isn’t higher than in the average population. If it isn’t lower, actually.

    • I think the ‘genetic predisposition’ theory unfounded and, frankly, irresponsible. You’ve got all these people going out of their way to blame ‘nobody’, and the way they would blame ‘nobody’ is by blaming ‘biology’. “Nobody” isn’t responsible. That’s for sure. Somebody is responsible. Somebody implies a mind. A mind suggests we have some control over our behavior, and our biology.

      When you’re dealing with troubled people, I feel that those troubles usually have a source outside of the individual affected. The individual, and individuals, involved don’t exist in a social vacuum. When you look more closely at the differences in power and status that go along with these relationships, I think you can begin to get a better picture as to where those troubles originate.

      Societies growing over reliance on psychiatry, and the disabling drugs it pushes, goes a long way towards explaining the phenomenon. Mental illnesses can tend to come in families because certain families seek solutions to problem members through psychiatry.

      • “Mental illnesses can tend to come in families because certain families seek solutions to problem members through psychiatry.”

        Sure. Psychiatry is the ultimate abuser-protection-system. Whenever the problem member becomes too problematic to be just bad, we can psychiatrize them and declare them mad.

  2. It’s quite a risk to be having a family of your own, when there’s a strong history of mental illness. If it affects one parent, you can still give the genes a run for their money, by not passing it on to the next generation. It’s common sense; but I understand it’s personal choice on whether or not to pass on your genes. Can Down Syndrome be prevented? By not being pregant after 40. There are some diseases that are much too rare, so it’s ironic that a family would be born with the same thing.

    • No, no, there isn’t much of a risk at all. The risk goes up in the case of two people both of whom have psych labels, but the risk is still very slight. Mental health treatment is absolutely no reason not to have babies. Psychiatry is something to keep your family away from. When it comes to preserving the vitality of species, at this point, eugenic policies and practices have proven bankrupt. I would say it’s more important to live one’s life than it is not to live one’s life because one has assumed essentially the role of worry wart.

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