The Parental Blame Game in Mental Illness
By: Beth McHugh 2006
When a child is diagnosed with a mental illness, it is understandable that parents go through a series of powerful emotions, including fear, sadness, grief and anger. The parent questions: “Why us?” There is a real and legitimate fear as to what will happen to their beautiful teenage son or daughter who is suddenly diagnosed with schizophrenia, for example. There may also be disbelief, denial of the condition, and extreme anger. All of these are normal reactions for a parent to experience when the shock of diagnosis has hit home.
Some mental conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder and postpartum depression have an obvious cause, if not a ready cure. Others such as bipolar, and the autistic spectrum disorders seem to manifest for no apparent reason. Suddenly the parent must deal with a child who exhibits psychotic episodes, or be told by a specialist that their young infant has autism. It is a difficult situation to cope with.
Because there is evidence of a genetic component for many illnesses, and mental illnesses are no different, it is not uncommon for one parent to blame the other for the introduction of the faulty gene which caused the condition in their offspring. On face value, this is a coping mechanism used by a parent to “make sense” of the situation. Unfortunately, it is not a very useful coping technique as it tears apart the two people who need to draw on each other’s strength in order to offer effective help to their child.
Where there is a traceable history of certain mental disorders in a family tree, it is tempting for the so-called “genetic-clear” parent to blame the other for their child’s predicament. However, just as we have no control over whether we have blue eyes or brown, or even if we are male or female, we also have no control over what illnesses, both physical and mental, that we carry in our own personal gene pool.
Parents must learn to let go of blaming one another for events they
cannot control and concentrate on doing the very best they can do for
their child. Education and compassion goes further towards the recovery
of the child than any amount of bickering and blaming, neither of which
helps the newly-diagnosed child in any way.