A Mother’s support is key during mental illness


According to an article over at Scientific Daily, what Mom thinks of her child’s mental illness matters when it comes to that child’s self-esteem. The study, carried out by a sociologist at Northern Illinois University, found that more than any other family member, what a Mother felt and communicated in regard to her child’s mental illness (in this study it was specifically schizophrenia), carried the most weight with said child, especially when these views were negative.

What researchers also found was that the greater exhibited levels of initial symptoms and therefore lower self-esteem in relation to symptoms, the more likely the mother was to reinforce popular yet stigmatizing beliefs about the child in relation to his/her mental illness.

Despite the small size of the study (only 129 mothers of adult schizophrenics were followed over an 18-month period), I find this study interesting from a Postpartum Mood Disorder perspective. All too often, I hear about women struggling with a Postpartum Mood & Anxiety Disorder who have chosen not to share their diagnosis with their mothers specifically. Or have shared their diagnosis with their mothers only to be told to “snap out of it” or that “it will pass.”

Family is often our first line of support and defense when it comes to any illness. But when it comes to mental illness, for many, family is the last line of defense because we fear stigmatization and exile from those we love the most. This study also reminds me of another study which concluded after fMRI’s of both depressed and non-depressed women that  a Mother’s criticism caused distinct neural reaction in formerly depressed women.

Is all of this related to the intricate female to female  relationship? Do we really care so much about what another woman, especially our own mother, thinks about us that we are willing to allow it to so definitively shape our own self-view? I realize we grow up wishing to please our parents but why is it what our Mother thinks of us that tends to matter most?

As women, should we not always strive to be the best for ourselves, not caring what any other woman thinks of us, not even our own Mother? How do we break out of that mold? How do we grow past attacking each other, past the guilt of having let another woman down? How do we learn to live for ourselves in a society which preaches competition and rewards those who achieve so much on a daily basis?

When the Mom wars begin to affect how the mentally ill view themselves, it’s gone too far. When the Mom wars delay other mothers from healing and finding the support they so desperately need, it’s gone too far.

A mother is where you go when you need a hug. A mother is where you go when your soul needs to be soothed. A mother is peace. A mother is love. A mother is not harmful. A mother is not hateful. A mother is not a source of shame about oneself. A mother is home.

When a mother ceases to be love, solace, compassion, and peace, we have made a wrong turn. Even mothers who are struggling with Postpartum Mood & Anxiety disorders are all of these things—they are simply unable to elicit the reaction within themselves without a bit of help and healing.

When a Mother, who, for no other reason, sees her child as stigmatizing and reinforces low self-esteem in her child simply because of that child’s mental illness? We as a society should be ashamed.

If you’ve struggled with a Postpartum Mood & Anxiety Disorder, I would love for you to leave a comment about whether or not you shared your diagnosis with your mother—if you did or did not, why? What was the reaction?

Let’s get to Just Talking.

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9 thoughts on “A Mother’s support is key during mental illness

  1. My mom is a medical professional – an OB nurse!! – who would totally understand, and yet I am very reluctant to tell her I’m struggling. I’ve always been that way when I’ve gone through hard times, finding ways to keep it from my parents. Part of it, I think, has to do with the way my mom handles things. Even though she thinks I’m doing great, when she visits me she still wants to wash my windows and do my laundry, while I am saying, please, can’t we just sit and have coffee together?

    I totally appreciate and love her, I just get my emotional support from my friends instead.

  2. I have shared my diagnosis with my mother and she is supportive. She lives in a different state, so her support is not in person with assisting me, but has been valuable and treasured.

  3. I’m a Motherless Mother (my mom died when I was 16) who suffered from PPD after the birth of my son and I’ve often wondered if things would have been different if I had here here as a support so I find this to be a very interesting piece of research. I’ve always known that not having my mom played something of a role in my PPD but never really thought about it from this perspective.

  4. I do think that we need to remember that our mothers may have or may still have the same condition that we do. If we have a difficult time bonding with our kids, expressing physical affection, or being engaged it could be that our mothers need the same compassion we do. It probably will NOT be what we need in the moment that we need it. Especially when they first hear about it.

    But they are learning, as much as we are. They will be our ambassadors as we learn to trust and teach them what it means to us to have a mental illness affecting our lives so profoundly.

  5. My mother has suffered from depression several times in her life and she still said nothing when I made attempts to talk about how stressed I was or how I was struggling. When I started Zoloft, all she said was “are you serious?” sometimes saying nothing is worse than saying something. Totally feel as though I can’t lean on her or go to her for anything motherhood related, much less dealing with ppd, anxiety, etc….sucks.

  6. I have not shared with my mother, although my MIL and SIL were two of the first people I reached out to. I’ve also shared with my older sister. My family is not an open family, but my in laws are, and when they ask how I am, I genuinely believe they want to know. But I’m scared to tell my parents. Don’t really know why.

    • I’d be willing to bet it’s because you’re family isn’t an open family. It’s hard to admit to your parents that things are not okay, especially if you’re raised in an environment in which things are supposed to be okay no matter what.

  7. I wanted to share with my mother, I tried to many different times. My mother does not believe in depression of any kinds nor mental health. She said, “if your depressed, get off the ____ couch and do something with your life.” Once that was said, I went into total shut down mode. Its really sad, because I had hoped she would be the one person I could turn to, I wanted her to be the person I could turn to, as I struggle through the PPMDs web. She is not, and it hurts…

    • (((hugs))) I can only imagine how very much it hurts to not have your mom be there for you. Time and again, I hear this same story—so many mothers in pain and struggling turn to their own mothers only to have their symptoms dismissed or stigmatized. Mothers told by their own mothers that they don’t need to wallow in their own misery and can snap out of it. It’s one of the few things I find beyond infuriating. I try to see it from the point of view that the parent is just as lost as the child but when your child is in pain and hurting, as a parent, one should do everything he/she can to help that child. Stigmatizing, judging, and exiling are not helpful at all.

      I’m so glad you have all of us at #PPDChat on which to lean. We’ll always love you, no matter what.

      Warmest,
      Lauren

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