Things we don't usually talk about


As told to Samantha Selinger-Morris


Photo: Getty

Kelly McDonald* was afraid to have children in case they inherited mental illness.

I used to feel afraid to have children because mental illness runs strongly in my family. My mother, my sister and myself, we're the only ones in our family not affected by it – and I have 17 first cousins.

My mother's grandfather killed his second family and then himself. 

There's schizophrenia and depression on both sides of my family. My mother's grandfather had depression. He killed his second family and then himself.

When we were growing up, my mother was always really open about the fact that there was mental illness in the family but she was more concerned with us developing substance abuse problems. There's a lot of self-medicating in the family. I can take or leave alcohol but lots of people in my family cannot drink in moderation. My sister and I are lucky that we didn't go down that path.


My mother says her parenting technique was to do everything she could to not make the mistakes of her mother. She didn't want to turn out like her mother and be hospitalised for alcoholism. She didn't want to pass down her parents' craziness.

When my sister and I were teenagers, I don't think we were concerned that we would become mentally ill because we felt we were invincible. Now I just think we got a lucky roll of the dice.

My mother and sister can get depressed, but it's not like they're clinically depressed.

I always thought I would adopt because of this illness in my family. People say, 'You never know what's going to happen when you adopt kids,' and that we would be dealing with the unknown. But, statistically speaking, my genes are not good. I don't have any nostalgia about passing down my bloodline, not after what happened with my mother's grandfather and the fear is always there of passing down mental illness and the problems that go along with it.

The people in my family may be pretty smart, and most of them are well educated, and most have a bit of money, but that does not equate with happiness or wellbeing.

So I thought maybe [the family bloodline] should stop with me. My husband just told me to relax. But it worried me, even though we did end up having children.

It's hard to judge now whether our kids [Mitchell, 3, Sasha, 1] will be affected. Mitchell's* almost four now and all toddlers go through that roller-coaster phase, but I can't help but worry. At what point will mental illness – if he does develop one – present itself? With schizophrenia, it usually presents itself in the late teens.

My sister has one child, but she doesn't worry about the possibilities of mental illness being passed on or stuff like that. I have that special worry gene, I guess, like my mother. We both get concerned with other people's problems and get stressed out on other people's behalf. I took her to the airport recently, and my car died at the terminal. I was outside the terminal and she was almost late for her flight, and could see the car was not working, and I saw the look on her face. I knew she was going to be in agony until she knew I had got out safely.

She sent me 10 text messages about it.

I'm concerned about my kids maybe having mental illness but there's nothing I can do about it. My sister's a nurse, so I'll want her to have the talk about it with my kids when they are older. I want her to explain the issues and that, because it runs in the family, they may inherit it.

I just want her to explain the chemical reasons for it. Because I worry that if I try to explain that stuff, it's just going to sound like I'm a worried mum.

Do I still worry that I may have mental illness? Well, I guess if you think you're going crazy, then you are probably not.

* Name has been changed.