Blaming Parents for Mental Illness

January 3, 2011 Angela McClanahan

I wanted to write a thoughtful, informed piece on parent blame as it pertains to mental illness. So I went to the Internet to research. My first search of the words "parents" and "blame" came back with a staggering number of results. It's obvious parents get the lion's share of blame for the mental health issues of their offspring. The question is--why?

Why Do Parents Get Blamed For Child's Mental Illness?

point1If mental illness has its roots in biology, and isn't merely the result of improper upbringing or other stressful circumstances, it does and doesn't make perfect sense to blame one's parents. Your parents handed you a genetic code, but didn't intentionally bestow depression or schizophrenia on you any more than they intentionally made you short or freckled.

On the other hand, if one believes the "nurture over nature" theory of psychiatric disorders, parent blame is equally questionable. There are people who have survived the most horrific childhood abuses who do not suffer from mental illness, just as there are those struggling who came from "normal" and "happy" homes.

The bottom line is this--blaming your parents for your psychiatric illness is easy. It takes a lot less energy to say "I can't help it I'm miserable because my parents made me this way" than to do the work required to manage mental illness as an adult. It's easier for the people who still believe mental illness is a myth to blame the actions of the mentally ill on their lousy parents for having done a crappy job of raising them. And no matter how much we may protest out loud, parents, in one way or another, usually blame ourselves.

I Blamed My Parents For My Mental Illness

I'm guilty of both. I spent years blaming my own parents' misgivings for my unhappiness. It was easier than admitting I had a problem I couldn't control on my own, but it wasn't at all healthy. It's true my parents made a lot of mistakes throughout my childhood, and while others have endured far worse, I have many memories I'd as soon forget.

But over the past few years, I've begun to see things as an adult, rather than as a wounded child. My parents were young when I was born, had problems of their own, and at that time, childhood mental illness was as foreign as human colonies on Mars. There are many things I wish they'd done differently, but I believe they did their best with what they had.

point2I'm now the parent of a child with mental illness. I believe the "nature" theory--that Bob would still have bipolar disorder even if he'd been born to the Huxtables or the Cleavers. And still, when no one's looking, I sometimes allow myself to believe it's somehow all my fault.

I can't determine whether anyone's psychiatric illness is or isn't, with absolute certainty, the fault of their parents. I can say ending my own parental blame gave me a sense of power I've never felt before. Perhaps it's time we, as a whole, shift our focus from determining who is responsible for mental illness, and direct that energy toward finding better ways to manage it.

APA Reference
McClanahan, A. (2011, January 3). Blaming Parents for Mental Illness, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2021, April 15 from

Author: Angela McClanahan

October, 2 2019 at 6:49 am

I wish some people could see the effects their blaming has on their ageing parents
Take responsibility. Stop blaming the folk who are trying to help you and drag them down your rabbit hole

January, 27 2020 at 1:54 am

If they are so innocent, why are they being blamed. Parents have a responsibility to care for their children. If they do a bad job they should be held accountable. Small children can’t be responsible. Bad parenting impacts a person for their entire life, it’s colours everything and is unlikely to be “cured”. Say sorry and own you mistakes. Your kids may see you as human and have some empathy. Otherwise get used to it.

January, 27 2020 at 7:41 am

What are they blaming you for? have you taken responsibility for that? People don’t estrange for no reason.

January, 16 2019 at 10:46 am

So good to see a professional with the courage to stand strong as the parent blame-game train goes whistling by. It's begun a new trend of no contact, gray rock, ghosting and entitlement to label and diagnose narcissism without training or understanding. Lack of communication teaches no resolution or responsibility techniques. Dr. Wayne Dyer and others are perfect examples that blaming your parents don't help you solve your problems and, after all, isn't that what we're trying to achieve. I find it almost comical that those who blame their parents find themselves to be "perfect" parents while demonstrating blame, lack of personal responsibility, failure to communicate in working through difficult situations and the ability to apply empathy, understanding or forgiveness for their parents, themselves or others involved in their lives. The blame game is an easy out for those who don't want to do the emotional work. It also teaches a new generation choice is meaningless because there's the crutch of blame.
Kudos to you for words of wisdom while those riding the train have just set themselves up as bad parents, even before the train leaves the station.

Craig smith
June, 21 2017 at 7:23 pm

After all the research that has been done there has never been enough evidence to say that mental illness is biological in nature meanwhile there is lots of evidence pointing to nurture.The nature argument is lies that ha e been propelled by people who make money out of the glorified pharmaceutical placebos used to treat mental illness.

January, 28 2015 at 12:27 am

Although you offer your own experience and that I assume is most of what prompted you to write on this subject. But I cannot- with good conscience, say that this sort of rhetoric is helpful for healing and recovery. It reminds me all too well of parents who are so deeply ashamed, in denial and/or negligent of their past wrongdoings or misunderstandings that they turn the whole situation around wherein the CHILDREN must ask for forgiveness as opposed to the parentage who refuse to take responsibility. At least in part. I understand your intention was not to encourage or perpetuate this but I can assure you. For those parents whom it hits home for, you'd be sure they'd cash in on this phenomenon.

January, 26 2015 at 12:59 am

But I realize that blaming them won't make me any better. But it's nice to be left with this giant problem as an adult of I love my dad, but does he love me? How do I please him? Etc. I'm 32 years old. I don't need that anymore.

January, 26 2015 at 12:58 am

I am severely bipolar. I was raised by a bipolar father and a codependent mother. Both were more concerned about themselves and their problems more than they were about their kids' school or proper medical attention. My father was irritable, unforgiving, and wroth. He was so offended at the thought that I needed mental help because he thought it would mean admitting that he'd failed in some way. I was sick. Screaming, beating, and yelling at me wasn't going to get me better grades or make me participate in class more. And it certainly didn't endear me to my parents. Here's the thing... most parents don't know what to do. The answer is... ask a doctor. It's that simple. Lay down your parental pride and get help for your babies. Don't add PTSD to their problems.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

June, 17 2017 at 6:36 am

Ditto. I am sorry, but parents are not absolved of their children's mental illness.i would go so far as to say that children could sue their parents if they thought inadequate medical and pharmacological interventions were not provided for those afflicted in the family. this goes fro any illness a child may have. Parents wanted children - now they must take the responsibility that comes with that decision

February, 22 2013 at 9:31 am

My 44 year old daughter is once again admitted to a psych ward. Alcohol, pain pill addiction; yet she continually blames me for not loving her enough time after time - what should a mother do? I have done everything humanly possible to help her but I cannot solve her problems or make her well and I believe that is what she wants.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

March, 5 2013 at 3:42 pm

Hello Marty,
Thank you for coming by and sharing your story. As a parent, there is only so much responsibility one can take. And you have an adult daughter who has yet to see how self-destructive she is. I agree that you cannot solve her problems or make her well. I feel that something within her keeps her in the cycle of alcohol abuse and addiction to pain killers. It sounds as if she may have experienced some kind of trauma, which has been linked to those who self-medicate. I don't know much about you or her, but it sounds as if you've stepped up and done so much for her. Please come visit soon.

Dr Musli Ferati
January, 7 2011 at 9:47 pm

Influence of parents in psychic disorders are double acting nature. Parents are responsible in biological as well as in psychosocial dimension of mental illness. The last one is amendable. Meanwhile, biological defaults are unreparable constructions. Indeed, mental illnesses present the source of infinite scientific controversy, where the role of parenting is somewhat implicit. In common life, unfortunately, we deal with many prejudices, which blaming parent for mental illness of their children. However, parents should understand the real nature of mental disorders of their heirs, in purpose to manage rightful the same disorders. This so much the more that the therapy of mental illness is successful, that on the other side would justify the parents.

January, 5 2011 at 8:37 am

Initially you had a mental illness. We know all too well statistically that The lifestyle of the abused is going to produce an abuser. Yes If we the Abused do not try to prevent this . We dont know why this is such a sad statistic. There are no proven genetic markers for this ABUSE syndrom NOR is there any PROVEN Depression to Hell syndrom. the latest argument studdied on this topic was covered and published on Yahoo home page yesterday . WOW, shoots a big hole in your theory of NURTURE Vs Nature the comparrison is not even valid . YEs in theory NO in scientific findings . The Back and forth arguments become staggering as you found out . But the truth is NURTURE is at fault 9 times out of 10 Nurture is NOT simply parental it is the entire social setting each off spring is subject to and the support the parent provides within that setting . Bullying is perhaps the most ferocious of these problems I was bullied. Why I have my concepts ater 63 years I blame my upbringing for the way I responded in society and the responce society had to me . The problem is MY parents did not suport me beyond the doorstep of the home Their Imprinting was never validated. This in turn shrinks the child into a cacoon that is now labled in red Indellable ink large type VICTIM For some reasson the bully typset can read the Victim typset and responds instantly knowing no return will occur.This is a very reliable synopsis for the failure of the Parent and the WRONG IMMAGE to show . We are trying to bring our children up with a very different attitude our grandparents generation had a 1 in 10 psychiatric problem child, today it s one in 4. The startling diference is The Dr Spock Symptom, thats one I can lable we have a highrate of people opting for his process and lower rate still clinging to the old violent upbringing this is the source of bullies and The Dr Spock is the source of non violent Loved child but we see that in the non violent good homes the major failures . I raised our child with love . but Upon any case of bullying I dealt with the school and ordered the system to take punitive action as lawfull to prevent on grounds bullying I was responsible for off grounds . bullying lasted for only a few weeks in my childs life . IN mine it was every day for 16 years the latter 2 I had learned how to deal and fought back physically and won . I still had the parental bullying at home. the Attitude was Deal with it no support . We diictate a peacefull society non violent . THis alows those of the oppite stance to overwhelm us and push us into a passiuve Depression and no FIGHT power to rise out . When we say exercise 20 minutes a day go out in the sun for 20 minutes. THese are well known depression fighters and bipolar busters. I no longer drive, I go everywhere in a wheel chair since then I was in a deep depresssion now NOt so deep I am able to handle the depressive stress chemistry . I am going to progress to the Gym part of me that I lost . and when I was not Bipolar. This is not just talk its medication, I must reach for I have in the past but lost intrest with my divorce . I believe in the life of care and love but its a war until we all are educated likewise, and treated with respect where ever we go and with whome we assossiate . I was victimised at home and on the street and for so long every day at school with parents that were interested donly in the cost of the school uniforms I ripped up I was jerred because those rips the did, the day before were sewn up and I had to wear them as was soon I was called the tear and sew boy . I developed into a strong boy of 14 and struck back often doing serious harm . I struck back at home and from then I dared my parents to touch me I feareed no one . This turn arround that was equally as bad as the life I had suffered under . Abused turned abuser . at least I only did this in self defence . but The previous life had created a monster I developed a syndrom that is far deeper than typical psychiatric issues and with it I fear for the life of any person Who raises my anger . Ive had anger management but the human requiress anger to self defend IF we become angerless our own governing society will take advantage of this and surpress us as did the comunist society in the 1950's Where. The Very few bullies will rule the rest of the planet . Where is the safe line, ANd what level Of upbringing do we allow as caring and where do we restrict punitive means Depression lies within those boundaries . Which we still do not fuly know how to adjusst to create the balance between a depressed sosiety and Where we can ruel out the genetic and nurture issues.
But it can also be found that a child will put on a Depressive act to sway the descision s of the parents . THis has its dangers in that it becomes full blown depression Real As opposed to an Act of a tempertantrum. THe issue is complex but being truthful will answer the question . Drugs will only help today, tomorrow take away the drug and We return to hell . WHy bother .
THe cure for any Psychiatric issue is re training the person not fogging the brain with sedatives.

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