Partners of people with schizophrenia & bipolar suffer psychological issues

psychological issues
© Katarzyna Bialasiewicz

Almost half of the parents who have children together with a parent with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder suffer from psychological issues themselves

A new study has found that almost half of the parents who have children with a partner who suffers from schizophrenia or bipolar disorder themselves meet the criteria for a mental disorder – by comparison, this is 18% for parents in the control group.

A total of 872 parents participated in the study, at the time, all of the parents had a seven-year-old child.

The results stem from The Danish High-Risk and Resilience Study, which is part of iPSYCH.

“In the Danish registers we used, each child only had one parent registered with a mental disorder, but the diagnostic interview carried out as part of our study showed that almost half of the partners also fulfilled the criteria for such a disorder. In addition, the partners had a lower functional level compared to the control group,” says PhD and Psychologist Aja Neergaard Greve, who is behind the study.

“The most frequent diagnosis among the partners was depression. We were surprised that 6% of the partners to people with schizophrenia also met the diagnostic criteria for schizophrenia themselves. In the control group, it was only 1%,” she adds.

“When one of the parents has a severe mental disorder, caring for the child will often be more dependent on the other parent, who perhaps also has much of their attention directed towards the ill parent. If the parent who we thought was healthy and well-functioning also in some cases has a mental disorder, and/or has a lower functional level and is emotionally and practically burdened by the general family situation, then this can have significance for the whole family’s well-being,” she explains.

Increased risk

Children born to parents with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder also have an increased risk of developing mental disorders themselves.

Aja Neergaard Greve adds, “This increased risk is both genetic and environmental. Cognitive functions such as intelligence are e.g. hereditary, but if the parents have cognitive difficulties there will also be an effect on the environment the child grows up in if the parents, therefore, don’t have the opportunity to create good stable routines and predictability or to stimulate the child sufficiently.

“Some of these families are particularly vulnerable and struggle with more than one issue and they, therefore, need extra help and support. Our study suggests that there is a need for increased attention on some of the families where one or both parents have a mental disorder. There is a need for specialised and targeted efforts for families already early in the child’s life.”

The full study has been published in Schizophrenia Bulletin. 

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