Mental illness in birth family

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Children whose parents have mental illnesses have a higher risk for developing mental illnesses than other children. The risk is particularly strong when the parent's illness is manic-depressive illness, schizophrenia, alcoholism or other drug abuse, or major depression. When both parents are mentally ill, the chance is even greater that the child might become mentally ill.

Some protective or positive things can decrease the risk to children, including:

* Children knowing their parents are ill and that the children are not to blame.
* A stable home environment.
* A sense of being loved
* A naturally stable and happy personality in the child.
* Inner strength and good coping skills in the child.
* A strong relationship with a healthy adult.
* Friends.
* Interest in and success at school.
* Other outside interests for the child.

It is often useful for such youngsters to be referred to a child and adolescent psychiatrist for an evaluation. Individual or family psychiatric treatment can help a child toward healthy development despite the problem of the parental psychiatric illness. The child and adolescent psychiatrist can help the family work with the positive elements in the home and the natural strengths of the child. With treatment, the family can learn ways to lessen the effects of the parent's mental illness on the child.

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