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Passing it On: Parenthood & Mental Illness

Passing it On“Aren’t you afraid he will get your disease?”

This question was uttered by a colleague at a department picnic this past summer when I was still working as a college instructor. This colleague had known me for a few years. She had known me when I was still adamantly not going to have children. She knew of my diagnoses. This was the first time she had seen me since I had given birth, and the first time she met my son, who had just turned one year old.

She chose to ask a question about my fear of passing on my psychiatric illnesses.Not a question concerning the million other things that happens with new motherhood — a question of genetic loading.

I wanted to respond with my sarcastic self and give a blank stare and state, “Why no, I never thought about that.”

Seriously, I waited until age 36 to entertain motherhood. I had heard for years from psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers about my genetic loading. I had read countless articles about the increased odds of a child being diagnosed with mental illness when a parent is also mentally ill. I, myself, have finished everything but my dissertation to earn my psychology doctorate. I think I may have visited this topic before.

Did this woman not think that when this little boy looks at me with his big brown eyes that I pray he will never know the torment of violent mood swings or the torture of psychosis? But at the age of 36, wisdom had also joined in to calm my fears. Therefore, I did roll the dice and become pregnant. And here is why:

First, I know that with genetics, 1 plus 1 does not always equal 2.

Second, I am so much more than my diagnoses. Yes, I live with schizoaffective disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and PTSD. But I am much more than my illnesses.

Third, if my little boy is afflicted with a mental illness, there is no one more capable than his father and I to help him through the maze of that journey. We both know that maze forward and backward. We can be the support he would need and deserve.

And lastly, I love this little boy with all my soul. And as we know, the greatest of these is love.

To my inappropriate colleague, I must say that my child may in fact face mental illness. And if it happens, he has all the love and support in the world to fight every day and thrive.

Passing it On: Parenthood & Mental Illness

Karren Johnson, MA

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APA Reference
Johnson, K. (2018). Passing it On: Parenthood & Mental Illness. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 24, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 17 Sep 2014)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.