Mental illness can have a profound effect on parenting. When parents are struggling with psychological distress, their children suffer the secondary behaviors. Parents can be hostile, insensitive and use harsh methods of discipline. Additionally, 23 to 50 percent of adults with psychiatric disorders also have substance use problems.
The children of the parents who suffer from psychiatric disorders have a higher risk for psychiatric disturbance and problems in academic and social spheres. Many mental health agencies do not evaluate basic information on their patients’ parenting status.
A recent study compared the serious psychological distress in both parenting and nonparenting adults. Herman-Stahl, Ashley, Penne, Bauman, Weitzenkamp, Aldridge, and Gfroerer completed a study in 2007 that examined the parents and non parents and the sociodemographic correlates of serious psychological distress between the two groups.
The researchers examined data from 14, 240 parenting adults and 19,224 nonparenting adults who had completed the 2002 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Logistic regression procedures were used to evaluate the information.
The study sought to get information on several factors, including the prevalence of past-year serious psychological distress among parenting adults, the subgroups of those parenting adults that would have serious psychological distress, the differences between parenting and non parenting adults, and how sociodemographic variables play a part.
The results show that an estimated 8.9 percent of parenting adults and 12 percent of nonparenting adults of a similar age had serious psychological distress. Adults in both groups who were women, younger (between 18 and 44 years of age), low income, or receiving Medicaid were more likely to experience serious psychological distress.
The information gained from the study presents several possible interpretations. The information must be viewed in light of the impact of serious psychological distress on interpersonal relationships. One possible explanation of the results is that it is very difficult for those under serious psychological distress to form or sustain relationships that lead to childbearing.
Additionally, those with serious psychological distress may choose not to raise or have children.
There were several limitations to this study. One limitation is that the analyses were based on cross-sectional data so they present a moment in time and cannot capture the many aspects of psychological symptoms. A second limitation is that the information was gathered via self-report.
The study highlights the importance of screening those in treatment for psychological distress to determine whether they are parents. Nonparenting adults are at a higher risk for serious psychological distress, and parents need to be identified so that they can be educated about the impact of their distress on their children.