When children live on the edge
Children of mentally ill parents often suffer from depression.
Photo: K. K. Mustafah
Loneliness and trauma: They need strength coping.
What is the matter Valli? I have been watching you for some time now. You are not your usual self. You are late to school, you don’t bring proper lunch and you are not dressed neatly. You have not been doing your homework regularly too.”
Valli hung her head. Tears stung her eyes and she seemed to visibly shrink from the questions. Though there was warmth in her teacher’s eyes she could not respond. How could she say her mother was admitted to the psychiatric ward? How could she say her mother was mentally ill? What if the others got to know?
Children whose parents suffer from mental illness find life difficult. While our so-called progressive society has no problem accepting and empathising with any form of physical illness, mental illness still carries a stigma. So much so that even approaching a mental health professional for help is a last resort. The loneliness and trauma of coping with a mentally ill parent can cause depression and could lead to suicide. Children find it difficult to connect with the parent. This creates a void in the place where love and security should be.
Many children of mentally ill parents grow up believing that they are somehow responsible for their parents’ condition. Others are confused and puzzled with the mood swings of their parents. As a result they get into a love/hate cycle with the parent. There is no stability in their lives.
All this affects their capacity to form and maintain healthy relationships. These children have a higher risk for developing mental illnesses than other children. Mental illness of a parent places stress on the marriage and thereby has a harmful effe
The author is a paediatric counsellor and trainer practising in Chennai. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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