Academic journal article Hong Kong Journal of Psychiatry

Temperament Study on Children of Mentally Ill Parents

Academic journal article Hong Kong Journal of Psychiatry

Temperament Study on Children of Mentally Ill Parents

Article excerpt


It is a comparative study of temperament and psychopathology in children born to mentally sick parents. 200 children one each of 80 psychotic parents (40 schizophrenic and 40 affective disorder) 80 neurotic parents (on ICID 10 criteria) and 40 healthy parents were studied for differences in temperament and psychopathology. Children as well as parents were matched for age, sex (equal numbers of ill fathers and ill mothers were taken i.e. 40 each) and care was taken to include families only with one parent as ill and the other was healthy. Children of psychotic as well as neurotic parents differed in temperament from those of healthy parents in being less sociable, (withdrawing & unadaptable) with negative emotions; low activity and intensity of emotional reactions; low distractibility as, well as low rhythmicity using Malhotra's Temperament Schedule which is an Indian adaptation of Chess & Thomas's Parent Temperament Questionnaire. Similarly these children showed higher score on psychopathology as compared to normals on Childhood Psychopathology Measurement schedule, an Indian adaptation of CBCL. Parental illness parameters like duration of illness, length of exposure of child to parental illness and child's age at first exposure to parental illness did not contribute to differences in their temperament or psychopathology. This study highlights the possibility of temperament as being the behavioural marker of risk for psychiatric disorder and significant mediational variable between the predisposition and clinical disorder in children of mentally sick parents.

Keywords: temperament, high-risk children, parental mental illness.


The children of parents with chronic or recurrent mental disorder have substantially increased risk of psychiatric illness in them. This risk is not entirely due to the genetic influences involved but also due to the fact that chronic or recurrent mental disorder is associated with abnormal parental behaviour, family discord, maladaptive communication and impaired parent-child interaction, Mental disorder in the parent could be a kind of stress on the child. Children under these circumstances may exhibit a range of problems from minor variations in temperament and adjustment to manifest psychiatric disorder (Canino et al 1990; Orvaschel 1990; Garmezy & Masten 1994).

Children born to mothers with psychiatric illness before pregnancy are more likely to have negative mood and low rhythmicity (Wolkind & De-Salis, 1982); negative mood, easy frustration, emotional instability and unhappiness Worland et al 1984), which are the adverse temperamental traits predictive of behaviour disorder in later childhood.

In the New York high-risk project (Erlenmeyer--Kimling et al 1991) offspring of schizophrenic, affectively ill, and psychiatrically normal parents were followed up till the average age of 27 yews and it was reported that later psychopathology in them was the outcome of the direct effect of having a schizophrenic parent. Anderson and Hammen(1993) reported significantly poorer psychosocial functioning in children of unipolar depressed mothers as compared to those of bipolar Or medically ill mothers.

Research in the area of temperament of children born to mentally ill parents is sparse. After the earliest work of Graham, et al (1973) not many researchers have examined the variations of temperament among children born to mentally ill parents and its possible sources.

Temperament is an ancient psychobiological concept and is being applied to research on human development in recent years. Although there are many definitions of temperament but the general definition accepts that it consists of biologically rooted individual differences in behaviour tendencies that are present early In life are relatively stable across various kinds of situation and over the course of time (Bates, 1987; Goldsmith et al. …

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