The Mental Illness Dilemna

iVillage Member
Registered: 07-11-2006
The Mental Illness Dilemna
Wed, 08-01-2012 - 10:51am

Advocates for the mentally ill are faced with a deep dilemma each time extreme and deadly crimes are perpetrated by those with a mental illness. Obviously, such acts are not sane or normal; it beggars common sense to suggest that a person who is thinking straight would choose to kill or wound dozens of strangers. And yet most mentally ill people — even those with conditions that have been linked to violence, such as addictions and schizophrenia — are no threat to anyone other than themselves.


For the mentally ill, who might be seen as canaries in this coal mine, stigma serves to wall them off from the social support and medical care that are necessary to spur recovery and prevent illness from leading to tragedy. As a society, we need to understand that risk does not equal destiny — and that believing it does is a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s not wrong to see schizophrenia as a disease or even to appreciate its association with violence, but to view people with schizophrenia as hopeless can in some cases worsen their course unnecessarily.

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iVillage Member
Registered: 07-11-2006
Mon, 08-06-2012 - 9:14pm
I tend to believe that while some lucky campers might be born with innate traits for managing life, I think most people need a nudge and all people can benefit from honing their resilience skills. So I guess I believe more than not that resilience is learned.   I believe that stressed parents, parents who are coping with addiction, or depression,  cancer, or unemployment are going to have less time to put in the effort to teach and/or model resilient behavior.  

I believe that resilience buffers the effects of stress.

From the Mayo Clinic:   Resilience: Build skills to endure hardship Tips to improve your resilience

If you'd like to become more resilient, consider these tips:

  • Get connected. Building strong, positive relationships with loved ones and friends can provide you with needed support and acceptance in both good times and bad. Establish other important connections by doing volunteer work, getting involved in your community, or joining a faith or spiritual community.
  • Make every day meaningful. Do something that gives you a sense of accomplishment and purpose every day. Set goals to help you look toward the future with meaning.
  • Learn from experience. Think back on how you've coped with hardships in the past. Consider the skills and strategies that helped you through rough times. You might even write about past experiences in a journal to help you identify both positive and negative behavior patterns — and guide your behavior in the future.
  • Remain hopeful. You can't change what's happened in the past, but you can always look toward the future. Accepting and even anticipating change makes it easier to adapt and view new challenges with less anxiety.
  • Take care of yourself. Tend to your own needs and feelings, both physically and emotionally. Participate in activities and hobbies you enjoy. Include physical activity in your daily routine. Get plenty of sleep. Eat a healthy diet. To restore an inner sense of peace or calm, practice stress management and relaxation techniques, such as yoga, meditation, guided imagery, deep breathing or prayer.
  • Be proactive. Don't ignore your problems or try to wish them away. Instead, figure out what needs to be done, make a plan and take action. Although it can take time to recover from a major setback, traumatic event or loss, know that your situation can improve if you actively work at it.
When to seek professional advice

Becoming more resilient takes time and practice. If you don't feel you're making progress — or you don't know where to start — consider talking to a mental health provider. With guidance, you can improve your resiliency and mental well-being.

iVillage Member
Registered: 07-11-2006
Mon, 08-06-2012 - 9:26pm

If resilience were totally learned behavior, we would have all learned the same lessons in the same household, right?

I agree. Resilience isn't totally a learned behavior. IMO, different people in the same situation will 1) experience different amounts of stress 2) learn and adopt different coping skills ie resilience and 3) be susceptible to different disorders as a consequence of ongoing stress.

I read once a book by Colin Powell. If I remember correctly, he commented that there are some soldiers who cannot go days without sleep due to their "constitution". I liked the way he used the word. It came off to me as non-judgment. My take on it was that Powell believed that no amount of learning or training could ensure that all soldiers twill still be able to function as soldiers after days without sleep. It wasn't weakness or lack of will, it was "constitution".

iVillage Member
Registered: 07-11-2006
Mon, 08-06-2012 - 9:30pm

Attuned Caregiving. No matter what a child's temperament, the capacity to deal with stressors is shaped by his caregivers

Yes! There is some merit to that statement.

iVillage Member
Registered: 07-11-2006
Mon, 08-06-2012 - 10:10pm

Are you suggesting children don't mimic their parents or children don't learn coping skills through their parents?

No. I am suggesting that children do not learn how to be mentally ill from their parents. If the parents do not have or do not teach good coping skills, then children are likely to have increased stress. Increased stress increases the risk of all kinds of health disorders.

Children may and do imitate behavior. Drinking, smoking, yelling, eating, etc will be learned and imitated to varying degrees. Some children who try drinking will become addicts. Most will not.

Am I making any sense yet? You can learn behaviors and poor coping strategies. But you can not learn to be mentally ill.

I was very intrigued by the comment by another poster that the thread needs to be divided into two bits because some behaviors can be learned which make people more susceptible to certain disorders. Other diagnoses have a much smaller learned behavior piece.

For example, being yelled at can be very stressful. That can result in an anxiety problem or depression or even drinking. It's gotta be some heavy duty yelling though. Not all children who are yelled at will develop anxiety or depression or drinking problems, but the odds go up as the severity goes up. Likewise, those children are more likely to yell than people who were not yelled at. Some people will yell even though they were not yelled at.

Schizophrenia, bipolar, ADHD, Asperger's, are all examples of disorders for which the parents lack of coping skills isn't going to increase the likelihood of the disorder. Good coping skills, resilience, can be very beneficial in managing the disorders.

And I would imagine if mental health was simply a matter of teaching our child resilience, then the mental health field would cease to exist.

I kinda think the the mental health field is a lot about teaching resilience: in parents, in children, in relationships, "in sickness and in health" so to speak.


iVillage Member
Registered: 07-11-2006
Mon, 08-06-2012 - 10:36pm

but who is linking schizophrenia to parenting?

Another posters said that emotional, physical  and sexual abuse are likely to trigger schizophrenia and that "parents...can be to blame... for schizohrenia but so can other" factors.

it seems very clear, our parenting skills, how we handle stress, how we teach our children to handle stress, how we handle our own anxiety, depression, organizational skills .... and so on, will directly influence our children


Of course, you are right, one won't develop adhd, but a child can certainly develop many behaviors which coincide with adhd. As far as anxiety/depression ... and whatnot ... I think that's a different story altogether.

Yes. I am interested in discussing/clarifying that. IMO, in many ways ADHD and depression are "different stories altogether".  An organized parents does not teach a child to be disorganized - that is just a part of ADHD. It is inappropriate to assume that a child with ADHD learned to be disorganized from their parent. Of course, a child without ADHD will propably mimic their parents' disorganization for a while, but sooner or later they will adopt their own level of organization.

Just as it is pointless to try to figure out what parents did or didn't do in the case of ADHD to cause disorganization, it is pointless to try to figure out what parents did or didn't do in the case of schizophrenia to cause such off the wall beliefs.

I may be wrong, but I think there are a lot of people out there (not posting in this thread) who believe that if a person with schizophrenia commits a horrendous crime such as the one in Aurora, then someone must have done something wrong. Sooner or later the parents role will be called into question. Then all the people nearby will be judged for "not doing anything". Then people will try to rationalize the person will schizophrenia's psychotic behavior - talk about an exercise in futility - as anger or religious or political. OK - forgive me for the little rant.

Back to topic. Some children of parents with depression will not become depressed. They may mimic depressed behavior for periods of time, but they will not learn to be mentally ill. Children of people with untreated depression are more likely to experience depression. Some of that is genetics. Some of that is environment.

The genetic link only increases the likelihood of such disorder. And, even if we conclude mental disorders are completely a genetic condition, this will never rule out the effect our environment has on us, which includes how our parents, parent.

Agreed - only you said it more susinctly than I did.

iVillage Member
Registered: 07-11-2006
Mon, 08-06-2012 - 10:41pm

I suppose mental illness can be like heart disease in that eating too much is a behavior that can cause heart disease but it stops there, IMO mental illness is a lot different.

I truly do not see mental illness such as depression and anxiety as being very different at all from heart disease, diabetes 2, and or being overweight.

All of those disorder are behaviorally based and can be ameliorated but not cured with medication.


iVillage Member
Registered: 07-11-2006
Mon, 08-06-2012 - 10:53pm

I think in a way to avoid blaming parents, some want to eliminate the parents responsibility in any of this by writing it off as something the parents can't help.

Parents can help their children cope with having ADHD. I have heard, but not witnessed, that some parents do not try to help their child cope with having ADHD thereby shirking the responbility of the bits they do have influence over.

OTOH, since the vast majority of people with schizophrenia develop the disorder over age 18, the "parents responsibility" is a different ball of wax.

iVillage Member
Registered: 07-11-2006
Mon, 08-06-2012 - 11:28pm

In our experiment, we asked participants to consider various situations involving an individual who behaved in ways that caused harm, including committing acts of violence. We included information about the protagonist that might help make sense of the action in question: in some cases, that information was about a history of psychologically horrific events that the individual had experienced (e.g., suffering abuse as a child), and in some cases it was about biological characteristics or anomalies in the individual’s brain (e.g., an imbalance in neurotransmitters). In the different situations, we also varied how strong the connection was between those factors and the behavior (e.g., whether most people who are abused as a child act violently, or only a few).

The pattern of results was striking. A brain characteristic that was even weakly associated with violence led people to exonerate the protagonist more than a psychological factor that was strongly associated with violent acts. Moreover, the participants in our study were much more likely, given a protagonist with a brain characteristic, to view the behavior as “automatic” rather than “motivated,” and to view the behavior as unrelated to the protagonist’s character. The participants described the protagonists with brain characteristics in ways that suggested that the “true” person was not at the helm of himself. The behavior was caused, not intended.

In contrast, while psychologically damaging experiences like childhood abuse often elicited sympathy for the protagonist and sometimes even prompted considerable mitigation of blame, the participants still saw the protagonist’s behavior as intentional. The protagonist himself was twisted by his history of trauma; it wasn’t just his brain. Most participants felt that in such cases, personal character remained relevant in determining how the protagonist went on to act.

iVillage Member
Registered: 07-11-2006
Mon, 08-06-2012 - 11:56pm

"Trust even the most casual survey to spit back numbers that reflect what parents of children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (A.D.H.D.) already know: a good chunk of their peers think children with A.D.H.D. struggle more with poor parenting than with a definable, treatable medical condition......

As long as family failure is associated with any issues of mental health, families are going to fail to seek treatment, and children are going to fail to find the help they need."

iVillage Member
Registered: 08-27-2001
Tue, 08-07-2012 - 12:56am
To nispulla- just want to respond to where you said that another poster ( I think you are referring to my post) said that children with physical , emotional, or sexual abuse are very likely to develop schizophrenia. What I said, I believe, is that children with a biological predisposition to schizophrenia are abused, they are very likely to develop the disease. If I didn't say that or didn't express that clearly, just wanted to make it clear that that is what I meant. Kid with genes for illness+ trauma = illness. Kids with genes for illness+ normal amount of stress also may = illness.

In general, because I've lost track of who's saying what, lol:
The first post that said kids are resilient was very general. I took it to mean that often they exceed our expectations and handle difficult situations better than we expect them to.

Not that they're über-resilient, more that as parents, we want to protect and sometimes don't realize that they can handle more than we think.

Now real resilience? I agree it's some nature and a lot of nurture. We can teach our kids that they're helpless or we can teach them coping skills. Not sure what resilience has to do with mental illness, though.

My 14 year old son with bipolar is very resilient in a lot of ways. He's had therapy for years and has learned to manage stress that most of us only come across once in awhile. Everyday is a struggle for him, yet everyday he goes out and faces it. He has this powerful mood disorder that puts the level of difficulty for his normal day way higher than many of his peers. And he still has to deal with tests, homework, peer pressure, sibling rivalry, etc.

I explained it to his brother that for him, everyday is like that day you have a big project due.

Resilient? Absolutely. But still suffering from a lifelong mental illness.