There are many factors that go into the decision to become a parent, like whether or not you can support a child financially and emotionally, the amount of support you have, and so forth. But if you're someone who has been diagnosed with a mental health disorder, another question comes up: Can you pass it onto your children?
It's a valid concern — research has found that some mental illnesses, especially schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, can be genetic. And given how often we joke about a child inheriting, say, their parent's forgetfulness or other personality traits, it's not irrational to think that a mental health disorder might be passed on, too.
After all, James Maddux, PhD, professor emeritus of psychology at George Mason University, says that almost everything about us — not just what we look like — can be inherited. From our intelligence to whether we are introverted or extroverted, he says nearly all aspects of our personalities have a genetic component, or can be passed down from parent to child.
Still, that doesn't mean that all elements of your personality are inherited, or that being susceptible to a trait (or a mental illness) means that you'll definitely have it or pass it on to your children.
"Genes can make it easier or less easier for you to experience common emotions like anxiety and depression," Dr. Maddux says. "But experience still plays a major role in that predisposition to feel and think certain things and to behave in certain ways."
In other words, nature is important, but so is nurture. So while it's a risk that you could pass a mental health issue onto your future children, it's not necessarily something that should stop you from having children if that's what you want.
In other words, nature is important, but so is nurture.
Take, for example, addiction: Genetics can play a big role in whether or not someone is more likely to develop an addiction, but there are a lot of other things that come into play, like the environment you were raised in, and any other mental health complications you might have.
In fact, when it comes to mental health, Dr. Maddux says that parents who have experiences with mental illnesses themselves may actually be better equipped to help if their child happens to develop one.
"If you have a child, who — because of his or her genetic makeup — is more prone to experiencing sadness or anxiety, if the parents are aware of that, they can help teach that child to respond to life experiences in a way that can lessen the probability or frequency of anxiety or depression problems," he says.
There are a multitude of things to consider when you want to have children, and your own emotional well-being — as well as whether or not you'd pass on a mental illness to a child — is definitely something to think about. Just know that living with a mental illness doesn't mean that you shouldn't have children.
"If people stopped having children because they were afraid of creating children who were more anxious than others, the world would shrink in population," Dr. Maddux says.
If you are experiencing depression or anxiety and are in need of crisis support, please call the Crisis Call Center’s 24-hour hotline at 1-775-784-8090.
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