Family and Caregiver Schizophrenia Discussion Forum

When to discuss your spouse's illness with your child

My wife has had SZ with bipolar symptoms for over twenty years. She has been hospitalized, misdiagnosed, medicated, diagnosed, medicated, relapsed, been hospitalized, and on and on. We have a healthy 11-year old daughter who is very perceptive and wise for her age. My wife’s episode cycles have become more rapid and pronounced in the last three years. She used to go years without medication and without relapse. In the last three years, she began cycling every six months. At this point, my daughter knows my wife’s mind betrays her periodically and that she requires medication. I explained it as best as I could when I had to when she turned 8 years old. I hate that there is a stigma around schizophrenia, but I can’t help but feel that at 11, it’s too soon to introduce such a monumental idea to her about her mother. But for how long can or should I keep up the charade? Any advice would be helpful. Thanks in advance.

Hi. I’m sorry your wife is not feeling well.

Now, if your daughter is a perceptive young girl as you describe her, and if you do your best to explain, she will not be affected by the information you give her. SZ is not a monumental thing, it’s just an illness like every other illness. By worrying about the stigma, you are stigmatizing yourself unwillingly. Don’t do that. There is no shame in illness, and the kid has to understand that. There is a chance she might inherit a late-onset form of the illness, and she shouldn’t feel ashamed if she does. What’s more, if she is 11 and a smart girl, chances are she already googled her mom’s symptoms and has a fair idea what the diagnosis might be.

My child is too small to even understand normality, but when he will grow up, I will tell him everything from scratch. CHildren will know about things what you communicate to them. If you let on that you are ashamed, you are teaching them to discriminate against mental illness. Also, no one is exempt from mental illness, not even you at some point (just saying, who knows?) and if you teach her that SZ is a monumental idea she has to fight off, you might be preparing for disaster if, god forbid, she ever needs to be medicated herself.

It’s a slippery slope, but I’m guessing - just talk to her alongside with her mother when she feels better, explain to her scientifically what that means, maybe explain to her also what stigma is, if she can handle the info, and do not hide this from her. Lack of communication is communication in itself- she might get the wrong idea if you keep up the charade.,

I have told my children that I had psychosis. I explained how it was and what I saw and heared. I left out the worst parts. They are 10 and 13 years old now. They knew something was wrong. I was not home for a year. Being honest and straight with what is going on is best.

But you don’t have to tell her about voices or delusions in detail. Don’t scare her. For my kids it is natural that I take my medicine every morning and evening. They have asked a lot about what the medicine does and I have told them. Lying gets you nowhere, the kids will make a false picture in their mind about what is going on.

I have also told my kids to make me aware of or tell my husband when I get cranky, angry for nothing, making myself enemy to others. Those are some of my early signs that something is going on.

Thank you both for your responses and I hope you are both doing well.

In the past, I have explained the illness and medication to my daughter as a sickness in the same way that one would explain diabetes and the need for insulin (her grandfather is diabetic and it was a clear example of medication maintenance). However, my wife is reluctant to talk about it with my daughter. I will not perpetuate the stigma around sz, but I know my wife hasn’t accepted the term yet, despite catatonic episodes lasting days.

I believe my daughter is in a vague disbelief/acceptance/ignorance of her mother’s condition. At 11, who can blame her.

At any rate, thank you sincerely for your input.

I’ve had this uncomfortable discussion with my favorite 6 year old niece who could tell I’m not like her other Uncles. (she took it better then I did.)

There are some books out there to give you some ideas how to start to conversation…

But the sooner the better. That way too… the child isn’t asking… “is it me? Why am I the one making the adult angry or react that way”

Now that my niece knows it really is me… not her… I’m not angry at all… it’s the flat effect… I do care about her… I just end up disconnected and unable to engage some times… I think she’s more at ease around me. - helping children cope.

Good luck and wishing the best for your whole family.

Thanks for the share, the input, and the resources! It means a lot to me and I hope to navigate through this a little better now. Thanks again.