Schizophrenia is a serious mental health condition that can present challenges for family members.
A mental health diagnosis affects not only the individual but their loved ones, too. If you’re the child of a mother who lives with schizophrenia, there are several specific challenges you may face.
Sex and gender exist on a spectrum. We use “women,” “mother,” and “mom” in this article to reflect the terms assigned at birth or what you might call them. However, your parent’s gender is solely about how they identify themself, independent of their physical body.
Schizophrenia is a mental health condition that distorts a person’s thoughts, behaviors and perceptions. Because it causes a detachment from reality, its symptoms can be very debilitating, making it hard to accomplish everyday tasks.
A person with schizophrenia may experience the world completely differently from others, which could create distance between them and their loved ones.
Schizophrenia is also one of the most misunderstood and stigmatized mental health conditions. The myths surrounding the illness can create additional challenges for the person and their family.
If your mom has schizophrenia, it’s natural to find yourself overwhelmed by all kinds of feelings. You may feel scared, sad, or angry. You might resent her for not being like other parents, or try to avoid spending time together. You may even fall into the role of the caregiver, trying to “fix” them.
There’s no right or wrong way to respond to your situation, all your emotions are natural and you’re not the only one. But there are some sound strategies you can use to help navigate your parent’s diagnosis.
Schizophrenia affects roughly 1% of people in the United States. It develops later in women than men, on average – typically during the late teens to early 20s for men and during the late 20s to early 30s for women.
Schizophrenia can look very different from one person to the next. But getting familiar with the broad symptoms can help you to understand your parent’s behavior.
According to the DSM-5, a diagnosis of schizophrenia requires at least 2 of the following symptoms for a period of at least one month:
- Hallucinations: Hearing, seeing or experiencing things that aren’t really there. Auditory and visual hallucinations are both common in schizophrenia, but other senses can also be involved.
- Delusions: A strongly-held belief in something that is provably false. Some people believe they are being pursued, targeted or influenced by outside forces, while others may think that they have superpowers or have been chosen for a special purpose.
- Disorganized speech: Incoherent, rambling speech that moves quickly from one subject to another and may be hard for others to follow. This is sometimes called “word salad.”
- Disorganized behavior: This can include catatonic symptoms, and problems with motor function.
- Negative symptoms: The absence of a trait that would otherwise be present, such as emotions, speech, engagement with others, and motivation.
Schizophrenia is an incredibly complex condition which can manifest in various ways. Having schizophrenia does not mean someone can’t be a loving and functional parent, particularly if the condition is being treated.
But because the condition impacts a person’s functioning, moods and emotional well-being, it will inevitably affect their children too.
In a 2021 study, researchers at the University of Manchester examined the “emotional climate” of families where one parent has schizophrenia.
They did this by focusing on emotional expression and parenting practices in parents with schizophrenia versus parents without serious mental health conditions.
The study showed that parents with schizophrenia displayed more hostility toward their children, and were more critical and blaming of their children.
While most of the participants (70%) were satisfied with the parenting they’d received, many reported that the condition had affected their lives.
In particular, 66% of the participants said they’d felt burdened by their parent’s condition, and 40% said that they experienced a lack of support from their parent with schizophrenia.
It’s important to know that you shouldn’t have to take responsibility for your parent’s mental health – especially if you’re a minor.
If your parent has schizophrenia or is exhibiting symptoms of the condition and is unwilling or unable to seek help, it’s a good idea to speak to a trusted adult about the situation.
This could be:
- another parent or relative
- a teacher
- a guidance counselor
- a therapist
When you have a parent with mental illness, it’s natural to feel protective of them and perhaps even feel under pressure to keep their condition a secret.
The stigma around schizophrenia can make it feel very scary. But the reality is that there are very effective treatments available which can help your mom to live a fulfilling and productive life:
Medications: Antipsychotic drugs are the first-line treatment for schizophrenia. They can reduce or eliminate symptoms like and can also reduce the likelihood of relapse.
Therapy: Psychotherapy can reduce stress and help to address negative thought patterns. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has been shown to be effective for schizophrenia because it can help a person to gain perspective on their thoughts and reduce the power of symptoms like delusions.
These are things they’d be introduced to by a doctor and mental health team after a diagnosis or hospitalization.
What you can manage is how you educate yourself about the condition and the support system you create. You can benefit from creating a mental health crisis plan either with your parent or a trusted adult.
Like many mental health conditions, schizophrenia is hereditary to some extent. The lifetime chances of developing the condition is:
1%for the general population
- 6.5% in people who have a first-degree relative with the condition — such as a parent
However, this still means that most people who have a parent with schizophrenia don’t develop the condition.
A note on genetic predispositions
Your genes play a role in whether you will develop some mental or physical health conditions, but they’re only one piece of the puzzle.
Schizophrenia can be an incredibly isolating condition for the person who has it and for their loved ones. And because of how stigmatized the condition is, you may find it difficult to know where to turn or find support.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is a great resource for the families of those with mental health conditions. There are support groups nationwide where relatives can gather and support each other.
Teen Line is another great resource for young people –— it’s a hotline staffed by teenage counselors and provides a safe, confidential space to talk about anything on your mind.
Many children with a parent who has mental health conditions fall into the role of the caretaker. But it’s also important to take care of yourself –— ensuring that you get enough sleep, eat well, and prioritize your mental health.