Mental illness

In the early months following the birth of a child recognized as having a major developmental disorder such as Down syndrome, there was clearly much distress and disappointment, but little evidence that the mothers had a higher incidence of postpartum psychiatric disorder. Later in the childhood of the affected child, particularly in families with many other problems, depression was more common in the mothers of children with Down syndrome than in mothers of normal children. But when the mothers of children with a variety of disorders all producing intellectual deficit were compared with mothers of children with Down syndrome, there were less reported health problems in the Down group. Children with brain damage and severe hyperkinesis and those with autism were rated as the most stressful. Hyperkinesis and autism both occur in Down syndrome and their families report a similar degree of stress, as recorded by questionnaire. For all families with a retarded child, many of the same factors appeared to be protective, for instance a good relationship with a partner and, in addition, support and affection from female relatives like the woman's mother or sisters. There were professionally led groups, assigned social workers, and parent-teacher associations at the school, but the informal sources of support were consistently more effective than formal, with studies in the United States showing very similar results to those in the United Kingdom.

There is no evidence that severe psychiatric illness is more common among the families of people with mental retardation than in anyone else. However, the combination of a severe mental illness, such as bipolar disorder coexisting in the same family with mental retardation is overwelming for any family, particularly if one person has the dual diagnosis.

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