Monday, July 28, 2014

What's In Your Genes?

Jane: Depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia are all mood disorders. Many symptoms of these disorders overlap. A doctor may diagnose an individual with the wrong illness depending on the mental state of the patient when the doctor observes them.

Nate: Moods disorders are often inherited. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), more than two-thirds of individuals with bipolar disorder have a close relative with a mood disorder. The percentage is high.

Jane: As we learned more about the genetic component of bipolar disorder, we began to think about our family histories. We thought about the stories that we have been told regarding mental illness. I do not have any stories to share.

Nate: When I was a child, I was told that my maternal grandmother had been institutionalized for paranoid schizophrenia. Because of this, she was shunned by the family. I do not know when or how long she had been hospitalized. In my research, I discovered that most cases of schizophrenia that was diagnosed in the 50's and 60's may have actually have been bipolar disorder. Doctors diagnosed patients with schizophrenia because there was little information about bipolar disorder.

Jane: The mental health field has made many changes about psychiatric conditions during the past several decades. The diagnostic criteria for both bipolar disorder and schizophrenia have changed. Much of the information that describes the differences between both disorders from that era was not as specific as it is today. There is a fine line between each condition.

Nate: Taking this information into consideration, I believe that my grandmother was suffering from bipolar disorder, not schizophrenia. I wish I had a way to see my grandmother's medical records. It could answer some of my many questions. I am sorry that my relatives has treated my grandmother unfairly. I would like to think that they would have treated her differently if they understood her mental illness.

Jane: I still do not know where I inherited my condition from. All I know is that mental illness runs in the family and I have one. My parents were born and raised in another country. The country where they are from may not recognize mood disorders in the same way as we do in the United States. It is also possible that my parents thought that mental illness was a family secret and did not share any information with me.

Nate: A few months ago, I called my mother to get information about my grandmother's illness because I wanted to know more about her condition. My main concern was about heredity. Because I know that mental illness can come from both sides of our families, I am concerned about the higher risk of my children coming down with a mood disorder. After some discussion my mother told me, "Don't worry honey, you're not crazy. You don't have schizophrenia."

Jane: We have seven children. We have always wanted a big family. When I had my children, I did not know that I had a mental illness. Now that I know that I have bipolar disorder, it does not mean that I wish that I could turn back time and not have had them. I cannot picture my life without each and every one of them. I love each one of my children with all my heart and all my soul. It is my belief that they are all on this earth for a reason. I have to admit, I do feel some guilt knowing that my children can develop a mood disorder because of me. It is not their fault. They are not to blame when it comes to the possibility that they may someday develop a mental illness.

Nate: My mother knew that my grandmother suffered from a mental disorder. I don't know if she was aware that mental illness is passed down from generation to generation. Would my mother have had children knowing that she was passing down the genes for mental illness through her children?


            Jane: One of my older sons that has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder is expecting his first child. If my grandchild inherits a mood disorder, I will love and accept my grandchild no matter what.



Nate: Due to the possibility of a parent passing the illness on to their child, some people choose not to have children. Society and doctors in the medical and mental health communities strongly believe that individuals with bipolar disorder should NOT have children.

Jane: Many of the medications used to treat bipolar disorder are considered to be dangerous to take during pregnancy. They affect the growth and development of the unborn child. Because of this, it is advisable to stop the use of medications needed to treat bipolar disorder while a woman is pregnant. The mother's mood and behaviors have to be monitored carefully. As soon as the baby is born, the medication regimen has to begin immediately. Breastfeeding is not an option while the mother is medicated.

Nate: Postpartum psychosis (an extreme form of postpartum depression) and the high risk of birth defects caused by bipolar medication are some reasons that couples with a history of bipolar disorder choose not to have children.

Jane: I would not wish this illness on anyone. The disorder not only affects the person with the disorder, it affects the entire family. We will have to watch my behavior and keep an eye out for early signs of mental illness in my children. All we can do is try our best to cope with any challenges as they arise. My husband and I will be vigilant.

Nate: Taking all things into consideration, I am disturbed that my mother's side of the family holds onto the stigma of mental illness. When we were considering starting this blog, I told my mother that Jane was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Her reaction was very cruel and mean spirited. Mental illness can manifest itself later in life. I wonder how she would have reacted if I had told her that I was the one with the mental illness.
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