Should having a mental illness—even if it’s one you’re succesfully managing or recovering from—mean you lose your rights to parenting your own kid? This is the focus of a recent story on Salon, and it’s pretty heartbreaking stuff. The story centers primarily on the case of a woman named Mindi who experienced a psychotic episode back in 2009 soon after becoming a new (and struggling) parent.
Mindi’s Breaking Point
Mindi had been staying with family in DeSoto, Kansas, trying to get back on her feet after an abusive relationship that resulted in an unplanned pregnancy. Like countless other women the world over, Mindi began struggling with depression after her daughter was born, and she began to feel distrustful of the relatives she was staying with. Then, one Saturday morning, she “cracked,” becoming convinced that her five-month-old daughter had been sexually assaulted during the night.
Doctors didn’t agree with her assessment, and after sending Mindi in for a psych evaluation, they notified child welfare authorities, who swiftly took custody of Mindi’s daughter…and never gave her back. Even though Mindi recovered after her episode, attending therapy, seeing a psychiatrist and responding favorably to antidepressants, she was unable to get her daughter back from the foster home where she had been placed.
Even when a panel of specialists (Mindi’s psychiatrist, therapist, and a bunch of judges) declared that Mindi was, indeed, a fit parent, still she was forced to keep living without her daughter. (By then, she’d had a second child in a different relationship, and was raising said child on her own effectively).
An Unfair, Unreasonable Outcome
As someone who suffers from depression and has since I was a teenager, the whole situation is pretty sad, and pretty rage-inducing. Would experts really suggest that women with any history of anxiety, depression, addiction or alcoholism—at any time in their lives, ever—be denied the opportunity to mother their own kids? If so, that seems unfair and all-around lame.
Though I’ve read a good deal about postpartum depression and I understand the hesitation around allowing a mom with severe post-birth depression to be a child’s sole caretaker until her condition is well-managed, Mindi’s diagnosis was different: “The psychiatrist who treated Mindi…diagnosed her with a mix of post-traumatic stress disorder—likely, a therapist later said, related to abuse—depression and possibly a kind of mild delusional disorder. Still, the diagnoses, [the expert]said in court testimony, “’do not interfere with her parenting and she is able to adequately care for [her daughter].'”
The Steep Hill of Mental Illness
It just makes me sad that people who struggle with oftentimes incurable but still livable mental conditions are being judged so harshly for something that’s almost entirely out of their control. I also understand the other side’s argument, to some degree. And admittedly, having no kids of my own, I can’t totally comprehend the day-to-day realities of parenting and all the mental fortitude, strength and care it requires. But perhaps if more and more people open up about their own struggles with mental illness—in serious as well as comedic ways—we as a society can make an effort to understand those afflicted so that we can work more effectively to help them and limit the number of people who die as a result of these issues.
Not to mention allow them to keep their children.