Sunday, February 28, 2010

Resilience in Offspring of the Mentally Ill

My mother is a thoughtful, kindhearted and vivacious individual who carried me in her womb and nurtured me from birth to adulthood. She happens to be mentally ill. Unfortunately for her and for me, her diagnosis with severe bi-polar disorder came quite late. We suffered together for many years. She battled her illness long before I came into her life.

For the benefit of my mother, myself and others like us, I am working on a healing project. I am completing research for a book about grown children of parents with depressive disorders. A clinical psychologist is reviewing my work and guiding my process. The greatest component of my project is interviewing others like me. I have completed four interviews and have three more scheduled for this week. Additional volunteers have offered to participate in the interviewing process as it unfolds. Ideally I would like to interview 10 men and 10 women. I am interviewing individuals with both diagnosed and undiagnosed depressive parents.  Far fewer depressive conditions were diagnosed in prior generations.  Like my mother, many people suffer for years before receiving an effective diagnosis and treatment.  From our collective experiences, we can help ourselves and our peers to maintain loving relationships within the family. More importantly, we can discover and appreciate our own resilience. According to mental health experts, "the offspring of depressed parents constitute a high-risk group for psychiatric and medical problems, which begin early and continue through adulthood." (Offspring of Depressed Parents: 20 Years Later, American Journal of Psychiatry, June 2006.) I am interested in how we are doing in spite of what the best research says about us. Do we plan to beat the odds, and if so, how? What do we have to offer to those who may not fully understand depression and its casualties? How do we best approach the topic of generational healing?

The book that most closely approximates my project is, Daughters of Madness: Growing Up and Older with a Mentally Ill Mother, authored by Susan Nathiel and published by Praeger in 2007. Susan Nathiel writes, "Certain children seem to fare well in adversity, so much so that we shake our heads and wonder how in the world they came out of chaos, abuse, or neglect in one piece. Researchers originally thought that some kids were 'invulnerable' to early stress, but this has been shown not to be the case. Resilient kids, as they are called, do suffer damage from early family dysfunction. Puzzling out the 'how' of this has been the work of many researchers, and the answers still aren't complete. What we do know is that, because of some children's inborn qualities or certain factors in the environment, they're able to make strong connections with people and/or find a meaningful focus for their positive energies."

Rather than coming at resilience from a clinical angle, I am entering through a more subjective door. My approach is personal and collective. I am also attempting to balance the gender scale on this project. Daughters of Madness and several books like it address the experiences of women. I have been talking to some men and I am interested in hearing from others. It is well known that depression affects both men and women and sons suffer right along with daughters of the mentally ill. I want to bring these sons into the discussion.

If you have any interest in my project or know of someone else who might, please e-mail me at As mentioned above, I am specifically seeking additional men who may agree to an interview. I also need 5 more women, so any and all inquiries are welcome.


  1. Commenting on one's own blog post is like nails screeching across a's a bit of a faux-pas. Nonetheless, I would like to announce that this post has generated four more interviews for the book so far! Thanks for spreading the word!

  2. Michelle, I am so intrigued and excited to read the book! What an interesting and unique topic.
    I feel I learned so much about you in this blog too!
    Nutrition & Style Consultant